(By Paul Virgo) Rome, April 30 - Almost one in four young Italian people are unemployed, Istat said on Tuesday, in another sign that the country's longest recession in 20 years is hitting the new generations especially hard. The statistics agency said 38.4% of 15-to-24-year-olds were unemployed in March, 3.2% higher than the same month in 2012 and 0.6% higher than February, according to seasonally adjusted provisional data. The statistics agency said 635,000 people in this age bracket were on the dole. The situation for the population as a whole is alarming too. The number of unemployed people was 2.95 million in March, 297,000 more than in the same month in 2012, Istat said on Tuesday. The statistics agency added that the number was 14,000 lower than in February in absolute terms, even though the percentage of the overall working population on the dole was flat at 11.5%. Istat also reported that in March 22.674 million people were in work, 51,000 (0.2%) fewer than in February and 248,000 fewer than in the same month in 2012. Women are also being hit hard by the jobs crisis. Istat said the number of women in work fell by 70,000 in March with respect to February. Earlier this month the agency stressed that its headline unemployment figures reflect only part of the problem of people being without jobs in Italy. For example, it said that in 2012 there were 2.975 million people who were willing to work but not actively looking for a job. In most cases these people have stopped looking because they have given up hope of finding a job. When added to the people who were unemployed in the traditional sense - those actively seeking work and eligible for unemployment benefits - this took the overall number of jobless in Italy in 2012 up to 5.72 million. The recession is compounding the effects of a decade of sluggish economic growth for young people. Some experts say Italy's labour regulations, which give high levels of protection for people with regular full-time jobs, who tend to be older, discourage firms from taking on new staff and make it difficult for young people to enter the labour market. Many young Italians who do have jobs work under temporary or freelance contracts that offer low levels of job security. Former premier Mario Monti's emergency government tried to change this with labour reforms to make it easier for firms to dismiss staff, a move it said would encourage companies to hire people with regular contracts. But these measures were watered down after opposition from trade unions. Premier Enrico Letta has said reducing labour taxes to encourage job creation will be one of the priorities of his new left-right coalition administration. The difficult economic climate and high housing costs forces many young Italians to live with their parents until their 30s and 40s because they cannot afford to leave home. There are concerns about how many young people will have a pension at the end of their careers too as these so-called 'precarious' contracts often feature low levels of social security contributions. At the other end of the system, the fact that Italians are living longer means retirees are taking money out of the state's pension funds for longer and longer.