The nation’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell 0.2 percentage point to 4.6 percent in May, the second consecutive month of decline, the Management and Coordination Agency said in a preliminary report released Friday.

Employment improved in May as the number of people out of work fell for the first time in 37 months. There were 3.28 million people unemployed for the month, down 60,000 from a year earlier.

The number of jobless men was down 110,000 from the year before to 1.96 million, marking the first decline in 35 months, while the number of unemployed women grew by 60,000 to 1.33 million.

The improvement in overall employment follows the postwar record-high jobless rate of 4.9 percent, logged in February and March.

Meanwhile, a separate report released Friday by the Labor Ministry shows that the ratio of job offers to job-seekers in May was 0.56, unchanged from the previous month. The figure shows there were 56 work offers extended for every 100 job-hunters.

An agency official said, “The employment situation is improving in a variety of fields, but the 4.6 percent jobless rate is still high.”

The official said the number of people leaving their jobs on a nonvoluntary basis is declining while the number of workers is rising.

Economic ministers expressed varying views on the May labor statistics.

Finance Minister Kiichi Miyazawa on Friday welcomed the slight decline in the unemployment rate, saying, “At any rate, that’s good news.”

Taichi Sakaiya, chief of the Economic Planning Agency, said, “It is good news, but there are some points of concern, such as a decline in the overall number of workers. Rather than welcoming it wholeheartedly, we need to be somewhat cautious.”

Labor Minister Takamori Makino was quoted as saying at Friday’s Cabinet meeting, “The jobless rate is still high, but there are clear signs of improvement.”

The total number of workers, including the self-employed and those in family businesses, dropped 290,000 from a year earlier to 65.03 million.

But the number of workers employed at companies totaled 53.74 million in May, up 320,000 from the year before, marking the first increase in eight months.

The number of full-time workers increased by 80,000 from a year earlier to 46.99 million, for the first rise in 29 months, while the number of part-time employees continued to grow for the 45th straight month, up by 180,000 to 5.17 million.

The agency official said the improvement in male employment was noticeable in May as job opportunities increased slightly for men.

The unemployment rate for men was 4.6 percent, down 0.4 percentage point, while that for women fell 0.1 percentage point to 4.5 percent.

The employment situation for males aged 15 to 24 and 25 to 34 improved, while it worsened for both men and women aged 35 to 44.

The jobless rate for women in the 35-44 age bracket hit a record-high 4.8 percent, while the rate for men in the same bracket stood at 3.2 percent.

The unemployment rate for household heads came to 3.5 percent, or 940,000 people, in May, down 0.1 percentage point from May 1999.

The rate for spouses of household heads stood at 3.1 percent, or 450,000 people, up 0.2 percentage point.

Tokyo CPI falls 1.2%

Consumer prices in Tokyo fell 1.2 percent in June from a year earlier for a record 10th straight monthly drop, following a 0.9 percent decline in May, the Management and Coordination Agency said in a preliminary report released Friday.

The consumer price index for Tokyo’s 23 wards — closely watched as an indicator of nationwide price movements — stood at 100.6 against a base of 100 set in 1995, down 0.5 percent from the month before, the agency said.

The agency attributed the larger year-on-year drop than in May to 1.7 percent discounts in the categories of housing rents and of culture and leisure services, particularly in hotel and golfing charges.

These factors pushed the price index for items, excluding perishables, down from the year before by 0.9 percent, the largest fall on record, and for the ninth consecutive monthly decline. The index was down 0.5 percent from the month before.

Also contributing to the record fall were declining prices for durable goods and at restaurants as a result of increasing competition owing to sluggish personal consumption, said Hideyuki Suzuki of the Economic Planning Agency.