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The seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained at 5.1 percent in September, unchanged from the previous month, with both the number of people employed and those unemployed decreasing, the government said Friday.

The figure is well below the postwar record high of 5.5 percent marked earlier this year, having held steady after dropping to 5.1 percent in August for the first time in two years.

The number of people without jobs fell by 190,000 to 3.46 million, down for a fourth straight month, the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

But the number of employed people also fell for a second straight month, sinking by 70,000 to 63.46 million, the ministry said.

A separate report features rosier data.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the same day that the ratio of job-offers to job-seekers rose 0.03 point from August to 0.66 in September. The figure means that 66 jobs were available for every 100 job-seekers.

The ratio was the highest since December 2000, when the last economic recovery phase peaked.

The number of job-offers rose 4.5 percent from August, while that of job-seekers fell 0.6 percent, the ministry said.

The number of new job-offers increased 17.8 percent from a year earlier, it said.

According to Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda, while the jobless data indicate the worst may be over, the government cannot be overly optimistic.

“We are out of the worst part, but the (unemployment) level is still high,” Fukuda told a news conference.

Some analysts said that sentiment rose in the job market as manufacturers increased their output and investment.

“The sentiment concerning the labor market is definitely picking up,” said Seiji Adachi, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston. “But in terms of actual conditions, there has been little change.”

The release of the jobless figures follows the recent unveiling of data indicating that other segments of the economy are improving.

Industrial production data for September, unveiled earlier in the week, suggest that output rose 3 percent, following a 0.7 percent decline in August.

The public management ministry report states that the jobless rate for men rose 0.2 percentage point from the previous month to 5.5 percent, while that for women fell 0.1 point to 4.7 percent in the reporting month.

Of those without jobs, the number of people forced out of their jobs fell 120,000 from a year earlier, to 1.10 million, according to Michio Matsumura, head of the public management ministry’s Labor Force Statistics Office.

Yet the government was unable to voice any optimism due to the distressingly high unemployment rate among younger people, Matsumura said.

Households spend less

Spending by salaried households fell a real 1.9 percent in September from a year earlier amid falling outlays on food and utility charges, according to a government report released Friday.

The spending decline followed a 2.2 percent rise in August, when strong demand for housing renovation boosted the figures, an official at the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry said in reference to the preliminary report.

The official also blamed the fall on brisk spending in September 2002, which featured more holidays than September this year.

The average monthly spending of these households stood at 315,887 yen, the report says.

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