• Compiled from AP, Kyodo

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A drain on retail and restaurant jobs that hit women particularly hard pushed the unemployment rate in December back up to a record 5.5 percent for the third time in a year.

The data, released Friday by the public management ministry, underlines the nation’s deep economic troubles, with payrolls even shrinking at major companies long used to ensuring lifetime employment for their workers.

Unemployment for 2002 was a worst-ever 5.4 percent, up from 5 percent in 2001. The rate for men was 5.5 percent and 5.1 percent for women. Both were record highs.

Analysts said the figures are not likely to improve much soon, as Japan’s economic growth remains feeble amid deepening pessimism about a recovery in the United States, its largest trading partner.

“We must face up to this tough situation,” said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, urging more measures to help the record number of people out of work.

Separately, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the average ratio of job offers to job seekers in December edged up 0.01 point from November to a seasonally adjusted 0.58, meaning there were only 58 job offers for every 100 job seekers.

The ratio in 2002 fell 0.05 point from the previous year to 0.54, the ministry said. The annual ratio was the third lowest on record.

The average number of job offers in 2002 fell 3.1 percent from the previous year, while that for job seekers rose 6.6 percent.

The Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications said a study carried out in November and December found that about half of the unemployed had no income at all, while others received unemployment compensation and pension payments.

December’s jobless figure was up from 5.3 percent in November, when stronger exports helped lift the economy.

It reflected a 4.3 percent decrease in jobs in the wholesale, retail and restaurant sectors — which employ large numbers of women — as well as cutbacks in manufacturing.

Unemployment first hit 5.5 percent in December 2001, the highest since the government began keeping such records in the 1950s. After improving over the last year, joblessness again matched that record high in October.

The December data put the number of unemployed at a seasonally adjusted 3.64 million, up 80,000 from November.

The rise in unemployment came despite a slight increase in reported job openings, said Masato Chino, director of the Labor Force Statistics Office. That disparity suggests that many people out of work lack the skills that employers need, Chino said.

Among women, unemployment stood at a record high 5.3 percent, vs. 5.6 percent for men. The jobless rate among women has been lower than the rate for men for the last four years.

Bankruptcy layoffs fall

The number of people who lost their jobs in 2002 as a result of large-scale corporate failures dropped 10.2 percent from the previous year, but the figure was still the fourth highest on record, a credit-rating company said Friday.

Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd. said bankruptcy-related layoffs came to 198,048. The figure covered bankrupt firms with at least 10 million yen in liabilities.

The job cuts included 55,794 in the construction sector, accounting for 28.1 percent of the total, 52,306 in the manufacturing sector, some 26.4 percent, and 28,636 in the service sector, 14.4 percent.

For December, the figure came to 12,914, down 28.7 percent from a year earlier.

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