Italy's unemployment rate in January rose to 12.9 percent, the highest level since 1977, totaling almost 3.3 million jobless, national statistics Istat said in a preliminary estimate on Friday. Overall, in 2013 around 478,000 jobs were lost in the recession-plagued country, where average unemployment rate was 12.2 percent compared to 10.7 percent in 2012, Istat said. Youth suffered the most. Young people without a job increased from 41.6 percent in December to 42.4 percent in January, Istat said. Currently there were around 690,000 people aged below 25 in search of work. The institute also noted that almost half the unemployed in Italy were in the southern regions, which are less developed compared to northern regions and which were the most affected by the economic crisis. The number of Italians who have given up seeking work, the so-called "discouraged," also soared last year to reach an average of 1.7 million, Istat added. Italy's 2014 has started with signals of an economic recovery within reach from the country's longest recession in 40 years, but also a persisting lack of a labor market strategy which experts said urges remedy. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has pledged to address youth employment as a priority of his new government's agenda. On Friday, Renzi called the Istat data "outrageous" and promised quick action. Last month, Renzi presented a draft of a package of job policy proposals called "Jobs Act" focused on a plan of strategic sectors and containing the idea of a labor code to simplify the legal framework.