Euro zone joblessness stays at record levels in August

* Number of jobless rises by 34,000 in August -Eurostat

* Unemployment highest in Spain, lowest in Austria

* Most economists see joblessness rising until 2014

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Unemployment in the euro zone remained at record highs in August and the number of people out of work climbed again, highlighting the human cost of the bloc's three-year debt crisis.

Joblessness in the 17 countries sharing the euro was 11.4 percent of the working population in August, which was stable compared to July on a statistical basis, but another 34,000 people were out of work in the month, the EU' statistics office Eurostat said on Monday.

That left 18.2 million people unemployed in the euro zone, the highest level since the euro's inception in 1999, while 25.5 million people were out of a job in the wider 27-nation European Union, Eurostat said.

The debt crisis that began in Greece in 2010 and has spread across the euro zone to engulf Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and the much bigger economy of Spain has devastated business confidence and sapped companies' abilities to create jobs.

A European-wide drive to cut debts and deficits to try to win back that lost confidence has led governments to cut back spending and lay off staff, while stubbornly high inflation and limited bank credit are adding to household's problems.

Joblessness could go beyond 19 million by early 2014, or about 12 percent of the euro zone's workforce, according to a new study by consultancy Ernst & Young, predicting that rate to rise to 27 percent in indebted Greece. That compares with 24.4 percent in the country in June, the latest data available.

"In this difficult environment, companies are likely to reduce employment further in order to preserve productivity and profitability," the report said.

Euro zone manufacturing put in its worst performance in the three months to September since the depths of the 2008/2009 financial crisis, with factories hit by falling demand despite cutting prices, a survey showed on Monday.

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The International Monetary Fund expects the euro zone's economy to shrink 0.3 percent this year and only a weak recovery to emerge next year that will generate 0.7 percent growth.

But the joblessness picture also obscures wide regional variations. In Austria, unemployment is the euro zone's lowest at 4.5 percent in August, a slight fall from July, while Spain has the highest rate at 25.1 percent in the month.

While a bursting of a real estate bubble in Spain and the end of a decade of credit-fueled expansion in Greece account for difficulties in the Mediterranean, policymakers still face the challenge of trying to revive growth across the bloc.

"The recession in the eurozone is due to the tough consolidation course in the peripheral countries, weaker global demand and the high uncertainty coming from the sovereign debt crisis," Commerzbank economist Christoph Weil wrote in a recent research note.

Euro zone and UK central bankers will likely leave policy unchanged at their meetings this week, but both will announce additional measures to help their moribund economies before the year's end, according to a Reuters poll.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott)

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