Japan’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate in August was 5.4 percent, the same as in May, the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said Friday in a preliminary report.

Compared with July, the unemployment rate for men rose 0.2 percentage point to 5.7 percent while the rate for women fell 0.1 point to 5.1 percent.

Voluntary retirements contributed to the rise in the male jobless rate, particularly among those between 25 and 34; the fall in the female jobless rate resulted from increased work in elderly care and welfare services, said Masato Chino, an official at the ministry’s Statistics Bureau.

The unemployment situation is unlikely to improve in the near future, because “it lacks impetus to turn upward,” Chino said.

In a separate news conference, labor minister Chikara Sakaguchi said, “The employment situation remains severe.”

But the Statistics Bureau official focused on what he called brighter signs that have been observed since July, such as a smaller margin of decrease in the number of employed and a month-to-month fall in joblessness among heads of households.

“The trend could have changed since July,” he said. “Until June, every figure proved a severe situation, but some different kinds of data began to show up in July and August.”

Nevertheless, adding up all the figures paints a dark picture.

The number of unemployed grew by 250,000 from a year earlier to 3.61 million in August, worsening for the 17th straight month. The figure for men rose 180,000 to 2.21 million while that for women grew 60,000 to 1.4 million.

The number of unemployed heads of households rose 50,000 to hit 930,000, but stayed below the 1 million line for the third straight month. But the figure for members of families other than heads of households or their spouses jumped 270,000 to 1.72 million.

By age group, the jobless rates for men aged 25 to 34 and for men aged 45 to 54 both rose 1 point from the previous year to 6 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively. The rate for women aged 25 to 34 rose 0.6 point to 7.4 percent.

The number of people who lost jobs through involuntary retirement due to pressure from employers stayed high at 1.11 million, while the number who voluntarily retired came to 1.29 million, the second-highest figure on record.

The number of employed meanwhile fell by 90,000 from a year earlier to 53.63 million, with the margin of fall shrinking below 100,000 for the first time since the tally began to fall last September.

Including the self-employed, the total number of people at work fell by 720,000 to 63.71 million, dropping 5.5 percent to 12.23 million in manufacturing and 3.1 percent to 14.15 million in the wholesale, retail and restaurant sector. But this was mitigated by the services sector, which saw its workforce expand 3.4 percent to 18.17 million.

The ratio of job offers to job seekers was unchanged from the previous month at a seasonally adjusted 0.54, meaning there were only 54 job offers for every 100 job seekers, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a separate report released the same day.

Job offers fell 3 percent and job seekers 2.9 percent, the ministry said.

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