Japan’s seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose to 5.5 percent in October after remaining at 5.4 percent for five straight months, matching the record high posted last December, the government said Friday in a preliminary report.

The number of unemployed rose by 100,000 from a year earlier to 3.62 million, increasing for the 19th straight month, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications said.

The government tried to downplay the jobless rate’s first rise in six months.

Masato Chino, director of the ministry’s Labor Force Statistics Office, said it is not necessarily a harbinger of further deterioration in the job market.

He said the rise “does not signal the start of a new trend,” since the 0.1-percentage point increase was small and the latest job figures contained some positive data, including more job offers and extended working hours.

But he also said the nation’s employment situation does not allow for optimism because “the government is trying to accelerate the disposal of bad loans.”

The economy is “now mixed with upward and downward movements,” Chino said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda emphasized government efforts to provide safety nets for an expected rise in bankruptcies and unemployment as banks unload their nonperforming loans.

“The country’s employment situation has moved back to December 2001, when a (record-high) 5.5 percent was posted,” the top government spokesman said. “The government, therefore, will strive to provide safety nets by implementing a comprehensive economic package (adopted Oct. 30).”

The unemployment rate for men hit a record high 5.9 percent, surpassing the previous record — 5.8 percent — registered both in September 2001 and last December.

The jobless rate for women came to 5.1 percent, up 0.2 point from September, but still lower than the record high 5.3 percent logged in May.

Chino said the overall unemployment rise indicates an intensifying trend in the job market, with many men in their 30s and 40s rapidly losing their jobs at large manufacturers.

The October survey showed the largest rise in unemployment among men hitting those between 35 and 44, with the number of jobless in that bracket increasing 60,000 from a year before to 350,000.

The 25-34 age bracket had the highest unemployment rate for women, with the number of jobless climbing 80,000 to 470,000.

As for other trends, although manufacturers are cutting back, services firms, including those involved in information and nursing care for the elderly, are hiring, the ministry said.

Also noticeable is an increased tendency by firms to cut back on the number of people hired under the so-called lifetime employment system and to hire more temporary workers, it said.

The ratio of job offers to job seekers in October edged up 0.01 point from September to a seasonally adjusted 0.56, meaning there were 56 job offers for every 100 job seekers, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said in a separate report released the same day.

The number of job offers rose 1.2 percent from September and that for job seekers dropped 0.2 percent, the ministry said.

The ratio of job offers to job seekers improved for the second straight month.

Masaki Kuwahara, an economist at Nomura Research Institute, said the gap was created by “mismatches between job seekers and employers.”

He said the “mismatching” is probably because men usually seek to become permanent employees while women, burdened with child-rearing and care for the elderly, enter the labor market as part-timers.

This, coupled with the tendency by employers to hire cheaper part-time labor, results in a higher jobless rate for men, he said.

Not on the official list

About 1.99 million people out of work between July and September did not feature in official jobless statistics, the government said Friday in a preliminary report.

Officially, there were 3.62 million jobless in October.

The 1.99 million have not been counted as part of official statistics because they have stopped searching for work, the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications said.

Most stopped looking because they believe it hard to find jobs that are appropriate for them, the ministry said.

The country’s effective unemployment rate is believed much higher than the official jobless rate.

Of the 1.99 million, 740,000 say they are ready to take up jobs if they can find appropriate positions, the ministry said. But only 510,000 tried to search for jobs during the preceding 12-month period, it said.

Other overall data released by the ministry shows 520,000 people have remained jobless for two years or more, while 530,000 have been without work between one and two years.

People who have been jobless for a year or more account for 29.5 percent of the overall number of unemployed, it said.

Bankruptcy casualties

The number of employees at companies that went bankrupt in October fell 10.2 percent from a year earlier to 17,540, a private credit research agency said Friday.

According to Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd., the figures for October bring the number of employees in this category since January to 172,923.

This effectively guarantees that the number for 2002 as a whole will surpass 200,000 for the third consecutive year.

The statistics cover corporate failures involving liabilities of 10 million yen or more.

The construction industry led the way in October, accounting for 4,629 employees, or 26.3 percent of the total.

This was followed by the services industry with 4,269 workers, or 24.3 percent. It was this sector’s highest monthly figure of the year.

The manufacturing industry accounted for 4,153 workers, or 23.6 percent of the October total.

October saw 1,730 corporate failures, the second-highest figure this year.

Liabilities left by the failed firms stood at some 2 trillion yen.

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