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Eurozone unemployment rate down to 11.8%

BRUSSELS--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 favorably 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.

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