The seasonally adjusted jobless rate remained at a six-year low of 4.5 percent in January, unchanged from December, the government said Tuesday.

The number of jobless people fell by 270,000 to 2.96 million from a year earlier, down for the 20th straight month, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

The December and January rates were the same as the level registered in January 1999. The December rate was revised to 4.5 percent from 4.4 percent in an initial report.

The government left unchanged its assessment that the employment situation is improving, though some severe elements remain.

In a separate report, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the ratio of job offers to job-seekers came to a seasonally adjusted 0.91 in January, up 0.01 point from December. The figure means there were 91 jobs available for every 100 job-seekers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda told a news conference that employment conditions are “still in the middle of improvement.”

Private-sector economists shared the government view that the employment situation is improving and said it is likely to lead to boosting workers’ income.

“There is no room for argument that the employment conditions are improving. The issue is how the development will improve the income situation,” said Osamu Tanaka, an economist at Morgan Stanley Japan Ltd.

While the pace of increase in part-time workers has slowed a bit recently, the number of full-time workers — who earn about six times as much as part-time workers on an annual basis — has increased, according to Tanaka.

“It may take time for workers’ income to grow, but it is a positive sign,” he said.

The jobless rate for men edged up 0.2 percentage point from December to 4.8 percent. The jobless rate for women fell 0.1 point to a 77-month low of 4.1 percent.

The number of full-time workers, excluding those in the agriculture and forestry sectors, rose by 80,000 from a year earlier to 45.54 million for the first rise in two months.

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