People stand in line outside Manpower Employment Organisation office in Athens
Unemployment in the eurozone eased down to 11.8 percent in March, according to official data on Friday, with small signs of improvement in Greece's high jobless rate. But the ravages of economic crisis on job prospects for young
people were also highlighted, particularly in Greece and Spain.
About 18.91 million people remained unemployed in the 18-member eurozone in March, down 22,000 from the February level and 316,000 from the level a year earlier, the Eurostat statistics agency said.
Eurozone economies are struggling at different speeds into growth and away from downturn, but the effect on unemployment, at near record highs in some countries, is lagging and is likely to continue doing so, economists have warned.
The eurozone country faring the worst was Greece, with an unemployment rate of 26.7 percent of the workforce, although the recession-hit economy is clawing its way back from the 27.2 percent rate of December, the month with the latest data available.
Austria has the lowest unemployment figure in the eurozone, with joblessness at 4.9 percent, followed by Germany's 5.1 percent.
The rate in bailed-out eurozone members Ireland and Portugal remained stable, with Ireland's March unemployment at 11.8 percent, down slightly from the previous month's 11.9, while Portugal was unchanged at 15.2 percent.
Jonathan Loynes, a market analyst with Capital Economics, said the data showed little sign that the large gap in unemployment rates among eurozone countries was narrowing.
"Perhaps the one piece of good-ish news is that France’s rate did not rise for a third successive month," Loynes said in a statement, while adding that at 10.4 percent it remained over double the unemployment rate of Germany.
Across the wider 28-member European Union, unemployment came in at 10.5 percent in March -- almost no change from the previous month but comparing favourably to the 10.9 percent of March 2013.
Overall, the number of jobless across the EU dropped by 66,000 since February, with 929,000 more people employed today than at the same time in 2013.
However, the EU's Commissioner for Employment, Laszlo Andor, warned that unemployment remained at a "very high level" with large disparities across Europe in both the availability of work and working conditions.
"Boosting job creation and tackling inequalities must and will be the absolute priorities of European policy-makers over the coming months and years," Andor said.
Unemployment among young people as a result of the financial and then eurozone debt crises is a particular worry for governments which have spoken of a "lost generation".
Eurostat showed that the March youth unemployment rate in the single currency bloc was at 23.7 percent, compared to the 24.0 percent levels of March 2013.
In March, there were more than 3.4 million unemployed people aged under 25 in the eurozone.
The countries with the highest youth unemployment levels were Greece (56.8 percent) and Spain (53.9 percent), with Germany and Austria faring the best, at 7.8 percent and 9.5 percent respectively.