Madrid (AFP) - Spain announced Thursday its unemployment rate topped 26 percent in the final quarter of 2013 as the eurozone's fourth-largest economy emerged only haltingly from a long, job-wrecking recession.
After five years of stop-start recession sparked by a 2008 property crash, Spain began to show economic growth in the third quarter of 2013 but activity has been too meagre to deliver a significant number of new jobs.
Spain's unemployment rate rose to 26.03 percent in the last three months of the year from 25.98 percent in the previous quarter, the National Statistics Institute said.
Among 16 to 24-year-olds, the jobless rate was 55.06 percent.
In 1.83 million households, all potential workers were unemployed - up by 24,600 from the previous quarter.
The deterioration in the jobless rate, though minor, spoilt an otherwise brightening picture for the battered economy, which grew by 0.1 percent in the third quarter of 2013, signalling the end of a double-dip recession.
"Despite the pace of job losses slowing notably in late-2013 and the economy chiseling out some growth in the second half of 2013, Spain faces major recovery pains, with major challenges highlighted by still falling bank lending and real household disposable income," said Raj Badiani, Britain-based economist at research house IHS Global Insight.
"The cut of several million jobs since late-2007, coupled with an unemployment rate stuck at 26.0 percent in late-2013, highlights that Spain lacks the fiscal tools to speed up the recovery in the labour market that has developed depression-like characteristics," he added.
"Clearly, this signifies an ongoing squeeze of household confidence, and suggests private spending will be prone to relapses, and is not in the position to provide a significant and sustainable recovery spark to the reawakening economy in the next year or two."
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's conservative government and the Bank of Spain both estimate that the economy grew by a still-meagre 0.3 percent in the final quarter of 2013, though official figures have yet to be released.
The latest report showed that the number of people in work declined by 65,000 to 16.76 million in the final quarter of 2013.
The Spanish unemployment queue shrank by 8,400 people to 5.90 million in the quarter, however. Over the whole year, the jobless numbers were down by 69,000 -- the first annual decline since mid-2007.
People giving up job-hunting
But in a sign that many people simply gave up searching for employment in Spain and were therefore no longer showing up as job-seekers, the number of people either in a job or actively seeking one fell by 73,400 in the quarter to 22.65 million.
That amounted to 59.43 percent of the working-age population, the lowest ratio since early 2008.
"The rate of people leaving the labour force -- the same as we are seeing in the United States -- more than accounts for the drop in unemployment," said Edward Hugh, independent economist based in Catalonia.
Spain is still struggling to overcome the aftermath of a decade-long property bubble that imploded in 2008, throwing millions of people out of work, and racking up huge debts for the government, banks and people.
Rajoy's government, which took power in December 2011, says its labour market reforms, which made it easier for firms to change work practices and cheaper to lay off workers, have stopped the rot in the jobs market.
But his government's efforts to rein in yawning public deficits with a spending squeeze, combined with high unemployment and a slew of corruption scandals, have sparked angry street protests.
The government had tipped an unemployment rate of 26.6 percent of the workforce for 2013, dipping to 25.9 percent in 2014.
The International Monetary Fund has warned that Spain faces five more years with unemployment rates topping 25 percent unless it enacts yet more reforms including measures to help firms slash wages instead of axing staff.