Spain's right-leaning government hailed a rare glimmer of economic hope Thursday when latest figures showed the jobless queue shrank in December, though unemployment was still up dramatically over the year.
Millions of jobs have been destroyed in Spain since a property market crash and a global financial crisis rocked the economy in 2008.
Lines outside unemployment offices have grown further since Spain slipped back into recession in mid-2011 and the government took an axe to spending, provoking two general strikes and growing protests in the past year.
But in December, the number of people registered as unemployed in the eurozone's fourth-biggest economy fell by 59,094, or 1.2 percent, to 4.85 million from the previous month -- the first decline since July last year, the Labour Ministry said.
When adjusted to smooth out seasonal blips, Spain's jobless numbers were down by 41,023 people, or 0.8 percent.
Spain's Labour Ministry said it was the best performance in the month of December since existing records began in 1996, with young people, women and first-time workers doing particularly well.
Over the year, however, the ranks of the jobless surged by 426,364 people, or 9.6 percent, raw figures showed. After adjusting for seasonal blips, the number of unemployed was up by 10.3 percent.
Labour Minister Engracia Hidalgo pointed to a slow-down in the growth of unemployment, however, saying the jobless queue had grown by 233,000 people in the second half of 2012 compared to a surge of 300,000 a year earlier.
Hidalgo nevertheless highlighted "the need to treat the December figures with caution and to closely follow the trend in the next months".
A broader, quarterly household survey by the National Statistics Institute provides the official unemployment rate, which hit 25 percent in the third quarter for the first time in modern Spanish history.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's government is forecasting an end-2012 unemployment rate of 24.6 percent, with a decline to 23.3 percent in 2013.
Economy Minister Luis de Guindos said on Tuesday he hoped for a return to job creation in the last quarter of 2013, a year in which the government is tipping an economic contraction of 0.5 percent while the OECD predicts a 1.4-percent slump.
"I think 2013 will be better than 2012," de Guindos told Cadena Ser radio.
"The groundwork is being laid for us to begin to see positive employment growth rates in the fourth quarter of this year."