ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek youth unemployment rose above 60 percent for the first time in February, reflecting the pain caused by the country's crippling recession after years of austerity under its international bailout.

Greece's jobless rate has almost tripled since the country's debt crisis emerged in 2009 and was more than twice the euro zone's average unemployment reading of 12.1 percent in March.

While the overall unemployment rate rose to 27 percent, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, joblessness among those aged between 15 and 24 jumped to 64.2 percent in February from 59.3 percent in January. Youth unemployment was 54.1 percent in March 2012.

"It is by far the highest youth unemployment rate in the euro zone, highlighting the difficulties young people face in entering the labor market despite government incentives to create jobs," said economist Nikos Magginas at National Bank.

Athens has lowered the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 percent to about 500 euros to entice hiring.

Greece's economy is in its sixth year of recession, battered by tax hikes and spending cuts demanded by its European Union and International Monetary Fund lenders. The economy is expected to slump by 4.2 to 4.5 percent this year.

The high jobless rate is keeping Greeks pessimistic about their economic prospects.

(Reporting by George Georgiopoulos and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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  • Protesters with motorcycles take part in a rally in Athens on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • Members of pro-communist union PAME raise their fists during a protest in Athens, on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • People walk into a Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) office with graffiti on the wall at right reading 'terrorism is the search for a job' in Athens on May 9, 2013. Gripped by a sixth year of recession, Greek unemployment climbed to 27 percent of the workforce in February compared with 26.7 percent a month earlier, the official statistics agency said on May 9. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A police officer helps an elderly woman to cross the street during a protest by the pro-communist union PAME in Athens, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. Thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday as unions staged a general strike to protest the government's spending cuts and tax hikes, which some predict will push unemployment to a stunning 30 percent this year. (AP Photo/Kostas Tsironis)

  • People stand in front of a Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) in Athens on May 9, 2013, with graffiti on the wall reading 'their gold, our lives'. Gripped by a sixth year of recession, Greek unemployment climbed to 27 percent of the workforce in February compared with 26.7 percent a month earlier, the official statistics agency said on May 9. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A protester kicks back a tear gas canister at riot police during minor clashes at a protest of the 24-hour strike in Athens, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. Tens of thousands of anti-austerity demonstrators took to the streets of Athens on Wednesday as unions staged a general strike to protest government spending cuts and tax hikes, which some predict will push unemployment to an alarming 30 percent. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • People with disabilities, most of them visually impaired, protest in central Athens, against government austerity measures ,on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Successive tax hikes and state spending cuts have pushed unemployment up to 27 percent, according to data for last November, while 61.7 percent of workers under age 24 are jobless.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • An elderly man with an old helmet gestures during a protest in the northern Greek port city of Thessaloniki, Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 10,000 marched through the center of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis)

  • Two visually impaired men join a protest against government austerity measures on people with disabilities outside the ministry of Finance in central Athens, on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Successive tax hikes and state spending cuts have pushed unemployment up to 27 percent, according to data for last November, while 61.7 percent of workers under age 24 are jobless.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • Greek metal workers rally at central Athens square on March 28, 2013 to protest the government's austerity measures and high unemployment in their sector. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Greek metal workers march towards the Finance ministry in Athens on March 28, 2013 to protest the government's austerity measures and high unemployment in their sector. AFP PHOTO / LOUISA GOULIAMAKI (Photo credit should read LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

  • TO GO WITH AFP STORY by HELENE COLLIOPOULOU - A member of a humanitarian group prepares food for people in need at Kolonaki square in Athens on April 25, 2013.ollowing sharp rises in unemployment, poverty and the homeless rate, social inequalities are rapidly growing in Greece after nearly four years of austerity, according to experts. AFP PHOTO ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Protesters with motorcycles take part in a rally in Athens on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A woman holds Greek and small Cypriot flags during a rally in front of the Parliament in Athens on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A elderly man holds a poster with a picture of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, made to look like Adolf Hitler, wearing a swastika and with text reading "Greece drinks the poison" and the other ''201 euros…my pension'' in front of the Parliament during a protest in Athens on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

  • A Greek presidential guard stands framed bythe remains of a European Union flag half-burnt by protesters in Athens, on Wednesday, May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in subdued demonstrations in Athens as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions protested soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

  • A Greek, right, and an immigrant worker march hand in hand in front of the Greek parliament in Athens on May 1, 2013. About 8,000 people took part in the subdued demonstrations as austerity-weary unions held a strike for May Day. The country’s main labor unions are protesting soaring unemployment, which is the highest in the 27-country European Union, and the austerity measures the conservative-led government is enacting in return for crucial bailout loans. (AP Photo/FOSPHOTOS/Alexandros Katsis)