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One in five Greeks unemployed, half of all youth

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s jobless rate rose to a record of 21.8 percent in January, twice as high as the euro zone average, statistics service ELSTAT said on Thursday, as the debt crisis and austerity measures took their toll on the labor market.

Youth unemployment remained at levels where more are jobless than in work.

Budget cuts imposed by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund as a condition for saving the debt-laden country from a chaotic default have caused a wave of corporate closures and bankruptcies.

Greece’s average annual unemployment rate for 2011 jumped to 17.7 percent from 12.5 percent in the previous year, according to ELSTAT figures. December’s rates was 21.2 percent.

For the second consecutive month, those aged between 15-24 years were hit hard. Unemployment in that age group stood at 50.8 percent, twice as high as three years ago.

Greece’s economy is estimated to have shrunk by about a fifth since 2008, when it plunged into its deepest and longest post-war recession. About 600,000 jobs, more than one in 10, have been destroyed in the process.

A record 1.08 million people were without work in January, 47 percent more than in the same month last year, according to ELSTAT figures. The number in work dropped 8.6 percent to a record low of 3.88 million.

As an increasing number of people claim unemployment benefits, the government is finding it increasingly difficult to meet its budget targets.

The finance ministry announced on Wednesday that the deficit of its central government budget had widened by 53 percent in the first quarter, compared with a target to narrow it by 38 percent in the full year.

For many of those still in work, the situation is also worse.

Under the terms of its EU/IMF bailout, the country’s second since 2010, Greece slashed its minimum monthly wage by about a fifth to about 580 euros ($760), gross, to encourage hirings.

Starting this month, Greek unemployment figures are being adjusted for seasonal factors. The average jobless rate in the 17 countries sharing the euro rose slightly in January to 10.7 percent, from 10.6 percent in December.

Reporting by Harry Papachristou. Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.