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Paul White, Associated Press
People enter an unemployment registry office in Madrid Friday Oct. 28, 2011. The government says Spain's unemployment rate rose more than half a percentage point in the third quarter to 21.5 percent. The National Statistics Institute said Friday the country's jobless ranks swelled by nearly 145,000 in the July-September period. The jobless rate in the second quarter was 20.9 percent. The total number of people unemployed as of the end of the third quarter was 4,978,300.

MADRID — Spain's jobless ranks swelled to a record of nearly 5 million in the third quarter — 21.5 percent of the workforce — as a sputtering economy failed to create jobs amid mounting global financial uncertainty, government data showed Friday.

The number of 4,978,300 unemployed stuck Spain again with the highest jobless rate in the eurozone. Up from 20.9 percent in the previous quarter, the rate is also the highest since 1996 .

Spain is struggling to recover significant economic growth after crawling out of nearly two years of recession prompted to a large extent by the collapse of a real estate bubble. Confidence in the government has faded, and opposition conservatives are tipped to score a landslide win in general elections on Nov. 20 over the ruling Socialists.

The National Statistics Institute said the rise in unemployment was spread across much of the economy, with the services sector particularly hard hit.

The figures were worrying on all fronts. The number of households with no one working, for instance, rose by nearly 58,000 to 1.43 million. Unemployment among those under age 25 dipped, but remained at a staggering 45.8 percent. Those who have not worked in a year or more now exceed 2.1 million.

Although the Spanish jobless rate was higher in a recession in 1996 — almost 23 percent — the population and size of the workforce was smaller then.

The current jobless number of nearly 5 million has no precedent. For Spaniards it is a psychological barrier that the government had once insisted would never be reached. It now concedes that is possible.

The mood Friday was gloomy outside one of Madrid's unemployment offices.

"The situation is really bad, fatally bad. It seems to be getting worse. And I really don't believe in anything that any politician is proposing," said Eva Gomez, 38, an office worker.

Rafael Calleja, a 52-year-old bricklayer who has not found work in his field in five years and gets by on odd jobs, sounded resigned to more hard times. "I suppose in the next 2 or 3 years, things are going to continue going badly. But what can you do? We will just have to put up with it."

The data will likely put extra pressure on the ruling Socialist party as its prepares for the elections next month.

Elena Valenciano, campaign manager for the Socialists, blamed a global economy she said was slipping back toward recession and said Spain is falling victim to that turmoil, with families unwilling or unable to consume and kickstart the economy.

"Under those circumstances it is very difficult to create jobs," she told Spanish National Radio.

Spain's jobless rate is now nearly triple what it was about four years ago, when the global economic crisis first started to bite.

In the second quarter of this year, the rate had eased a bit — four-tenths of a point — as companies hired for the Easter holiday and the summer tourism rush. But that relief has proved short-lived.

The statistics report released Friday said about 2,000 people have stopped looking for work altogether during the quarter. If they had not, the workforce — people who are working or actively looking for jobs — would have been bigger and thus the jobless rate a tad higher.

Iain Sullivan and Ciaran Giles in Madrid contributed to this story.