The number of employees working at private companies in Japan decreased last year for the first time in 50 years, the National Tax Administration Agency said in a report released Tuesday on the profile of the nation’s salaried workers.

The agency said the amount of income earned by the nation’s salaried workers last year also shrank, apparently the result of the prolonged economic slump that prompted many companies to downsize their payrolls and trim labor outlays.

According to a nationwide survey conducted by the tax agency, Japan had 44.98 million private-sector employees last year, down 1 percent from 1998.

The average annual income last year decreased for the second straight year, to 4,613,000 yen, down 0.8 percent from 1998.

In 1999, the total amount of salaried income in Japan — 207.519 quadrillion yen — also shrank for the second consecutive year. The margin of decline was bigger than 1998 — 1.7 percent against 0.1 percent — the agency said.

The agency attributed the decline in overall pay last year, despite a slight increase in regular monthly salaries, to a sharp, 7.4 percent decline in bonus payments, which generally reflect a company’s profitability.

The amount of annual salary totaled 5.67 million yen for male employees and 2.8 million yen for female employees. The gap narrowed by 45,000 yen from 1998.

According to the tax agency, the chemical industry topped the pay scale in the nation’s private sector in 1999 for the third year in a row at 5.59 million yen per year.

The second place went to the finance, insurance and real estate industry, at 5.57 million yen, followed by the metals and machinery industry, and transport and communications companies.

The agency said the decrease in the ranks of salaried workers last year was sharper among men (1.3 percent) than women (0.6 percent). The number of male employees was 28.38 million while there were 16.6 million female employees.

The agency said the study was based on a survey of 20,000 firms and a nationwide sample of 250,000 employees.

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