March jobless rate still at 4.9%

Record-high 3.49 million Japanese are unemployed

Japan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate stayed at a postwar record high of 4.9 percent for the second straight month in March, with the rate for men hitting another record high, the Management and Coordination Agency said Friday.

The jobless rate for all of fiscal 1999, which ended March 31, was 4.7 percent, the highest since comparable data became available in fiscal 1953.

The monthly jobless rate for men rose 0.1 percentage point to 5.2 percent, while the rate for women also climbed 0.1 point to 4.6 percent.

The agency said the number of unemployed in March rose 220,000 from February to a record 3.49 million people, 70,000 more than the previous record set last April.

Both the February and March jobless rates were rounded off to 4.9 percent, but the March rate was actually higher, at 4.92 percent over February’s 4.85 percent, an agency official said.

In a separate report released the same day, the Labor Ministry said the seasonally adjusted ratio of job offers to job-seekers improved in March to 0.53, up 0.01 point from February, meaning there were 53 jobs offered for every 100 job-seekers.

“The employment situation remains severe with the high jobless rate, but new job offers are clearly increasing amid the upward trend in the economy,” a ministry official said.

New job offers, which grew 9.8 percent in March over the year before, were particularly seen in the information-technology sector, he said.

He predicted the jobless rate would rise further in April due to seasonal factors such as new graduates failing to find jobs and people voluntarily leaving jobs at the turn of a fiscal year, but added it will likely peak thereafter.

The agency said the number of jobholders totaled 63.45 million in March, down 390,000, or 0.6 percent.

The agency said the number of unemployed increased particularly among males in the 15-24 and 25-34 age brackets.

The jobless rate for males in the 15-24 age bracket hit a record 12.5 percent, with the number of unemployed rising 20,000 from the year before to 490,000.

The rate for males aged 25 to 34 was a record 5.8 percent, with the number of unemployed rising by 80,000 to 530,000.

The number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs grew a substantial 110,000 over the year before, rising 140,000 for men but declining 30,000 for women.

The trend was most acute for males in the 25-34 age bracket, with most of the 530,000 jobless in this group leaving their jobs voluntarily, the agency official said.

The number of jobless family members who are not household heads rose to a record-high 1.64 million, up 130,000 from the year before.

Speaking to reporters in the Diet building, Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori said he sees signs of improvement in the unemployment situation, although it is still at a severe level.

“It is still at a level that necessitates caution. . . . But there are signs of improvement,” Mori said, pointing to an increase in new job offers in the same month.

Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Mikio Aoki told a news conference: “A record-high unemployment rate does not directly mean a setback to the economic recovery.

“The favorable effects of economic recovery do not appear immediately in the jobless rate.”

Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa, however, voiced caution against a further deterioration of the now-severe employment situation.

The jobless rate could top 5 percent in the near future and fresh job-creation measures must be considered, he told reporters in the Diet building.

Miyazawa quoted Labor Minister Takamori Makino as saying at Friday’s Cabinet meeting that the ministry is looking to use part of the fiscal 2000 budget funds set aside for emergency job creation.