Unemployment in the 17-nation eurozone ended 2011 at 10.4 per cent, a new record high for the single currency since its launch at the start of 1999, official figures showed Tuesday.   

Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said the rate in December was unchanged, as November's was revised upwards from a previous estimate of 10.3 per cent.    Unemployment has been steadily rising over the past year — in December 2010, it stood at 9.5 per cent — largely becaues of Europe's debt crisis.   

The biggest increases over 2011 were recorded in Greece, Cyprus and Spain. All three, to various degrees, have had to impose tough austerity measures — such as public sector layoffs and spending cuts — in an effort to regain investor confidence lost during the crisis.   

The agency said just under 16.5 million people were unemployed in the eurozone, up 751,000 on the year before.   

The highest unemployment rate remains in Spain, where 22.9 per cent of the working population were without work, though Greece is nearing with 19.2 per cent rate. The lowest rate in the eurozone is Austria's 4.1 per cent.

The pain of high unemployment in Europe has hit the continent's youngest workers the hardest. Unemployment among those aged 18-24 has surged to 22 per cent across the entire eurozone.

It is of particular concern in Spain, where youth unemployment has hit 51.4 per cent. Greece's youth unemployment is 47.2 per cent, while 30.8 per cent of Portugal's youth are unemployed.

With files from CBC News