BUENOS AIRES, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Argentines, who have seen jobs and wages hit by economic malaise and rampant inflation, lined up at churches on Monday to ask St. Cayetano, the patron saint of bread and labor, for employment, with some critical of politicians for not doing enough to help.
The South American country, which saw unemployment tick up to 6.9% in the first quarter, is set for primary elections on Sunday where the conservative opposition is expected to outperform the ruling Peronist coalition.
The run-up to the vote, in effect a dress rehearsal for the October general election, has been dominated by the economy. Inflation of 116% has hit savings and salaries, while dwindling hard cash reserves, a sky-high interest rate, a weak peso currency and tight capital controls have dampened the economy and jobs.
"Walking around this neighborhood, there are many people who have come from other parts of the country to ask for work. People are asking a saint because they can't ask the politicians," said retiree Juan Mura, 58.
"I would like the politicians to come here and see the reality of the people."
The ruling coalition candidate, economy minister Sergio Massa, is by no means down and out in the polls, though he lags the main opposition bloc, split between two runners. A far-right libertarian also holds a key chunk of the likely vote.
Fast rising prices from vegetables to meat have heaped pressure on the government and Massa, despite some signs of it cooling in recent months. The cost of living has outstripped wage growth, meaning many struggle even if they have work.
"I think perhaps there are jobs, but there aren't good salaries," said Betina Basanta, 57, queuing to enter a church in Buenos Aires.
"Salaries don't match up. It's the pillar that is missing. Work gives one dignity, but you also need to be able to live."
Armando Villar, 44, was more hopeful. He said he had come to pray to St. Cayetano for years and he hadn't been let down so far, despite the country's long-running economic woes.
"I've been coming here for many years," he said. "It's the satisfaction of being here in this place and the truth for me at least is that the saint never abandoned me. I always had work."
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