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The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent in fiscal 2004, down 0.5 percentage point from fiscal 2003 for the best reading in six years, the government said Tuesday.

The jobless rate for the year to March 31 was the lowest since 4.3 percent was logged in fiscal 1998, suggesting that economic recovery has taken root, although it has been leveling off in recent months.

The number of unemployed people averaged 3.08 million in fiscal 2004, down 340,000 from the previous year for the second straight yearly decline, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

The average jobless rate for men came to 4.8 percent, down 0.5 point, and 4.3 percent for women, also down a half point.

The number of jobholders increased 120,000 to an average of 63.32 million for the second straight yearly expansion.

The job situation has improved, although for the young the job market remains tough, a ministry official said.

But some private-sector economists said the prime reason behind the improvement in the employment situation is the rapid aging of the nation’s population, which is reducing the number of workers — the supply side of the job market — while demand remains firm.

The unemployment rate for men aged 15 to 24 came to 11.6 percent in March, down 1.4 points from a year earlier, while for women in the same age bracket it was 8.7 percent, down 1.8 points.

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