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The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage point to 4.4 percent in July from June partly because more people were seeking better jobs amid the economic recovery, the government said Tuesday.

The number of jobless people shrank 290,000 to 2.89 million in July from a year earlier for the third straight monthly decline, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

The jobless rate for July compared with the average projection of 4.2 percent by private-sector economists polled by Kyodo News.

It is the first rise in the jobless rate since February, when the rate rose 0.2 point to 4.7 percent from the previous month.

The jobless rate for men rose 0.1 point from June to 4.5 percent and that for women climbed 0.4 point to 4.3 percent.

But the ministry remained upbeat about the employment situation, saying it is improving.

“A rise in unemployment reflects the recent move that people, particularly women, started to seek better jobs as economic conditions improve,” a ministry official said.

Private-sector economists agreed.

“The female population not looking for work shrank while the number of women seeking employment increased. A rise in the jobless rate is likely to be short-lived,” said Seiji Adachi, a senior economist at Deutsche Securities Ltd.

“I expect the unemployment rate to fall below 4.0 percent by the end of this year.”

In a separate report, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the ratio of job offers to job seekers came to a seasonally adjusted 0.97 in July, up 0.01 percentage point from June. It was the highest level since October in 1992, when the figure was logged at 0.99.

The figure means there were 97 jobs available for every 100 job seekers.

The number of job offers fell 1.0 percent from June and that of job seekers lost 2.0 percent.

The number of new job offers expanded 6.0 percent from a year earlier.

According to the internal affairs ministry, the number of people forced out of their jobs totaled 710,000 in July, down 190,000 from a year earlier.

The number of those who quit rose 50,000 to 1.12 million.

Improvement was seen in most age brackets, including that of people aged 15 to 24.

The jobless rate for males in that category fell 1.7 points to 9.3 percent and that for females edged down 0.5 point to 7.2 percent.

The number of jobholders increased 370,000 to 64.1 million in July from a year earlier.

By sex, the number of male job holders rose 190,000 to 37.38 million and that of female workers increased 180,000 to 26.72 million.

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