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Japan’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent in May, down from 4.1 percent in April, its lowest level in eight years, the government said Friday.

The 4 percent jobless rate, a figure not seen since April 1998, beat the average market estimate of 4.1 percent, underscoring the steady improvement in the labor market.

The number of jobless totaled 2.77 million in the reporting month, down 300,000 from a year earlier, the sixth straight year-on-year decline, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said in a preliminary report.

The jobless rate for men was unchanged from April at 4.2 percent, while that for women was also flat at 3.8 percent.

Private-sector economists said the expanding economic recovery is likely to create more jobs in the coming months, with some predicting the jobless rate will drop into the 3 percent area when the June figures are released.

“The labor market is expanding because Japan’s economy is undergoing a very good cycle of economic growth, where healthy corporate earnings lead to increased capital spending and higher wages, which in turn generate fresh demand and boost corporate profits,” said Naoki Iizuka, chief economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute Inc.

“Unless the economy is hit by risks such as a faster-than-expected credit-tightening or a slowdown in the U.S. economy, the unemployment rate is likely to keep falling this year,” Iizuka said. “The rate could drop to the 3 percent level in June.”

The government left its assessment of the job market unchanged, saying it continues to improve, although the jobless rate for young workers remains high.

According to the report, the number of people employed rose by 130,000 in May from a year earlier to 64.48 million, the 13th straight year-on-year rise.

The number of male jobholders climbed 150,000 to 37.61 million, while that of female workers slipped 10,000 to 26.87 million.

Employment was up in the service, transport and manufacturing sectors, but fell in the farm, dining and lodging, and construction sectors.

The number of people dismissed from their jobs fell by 90,000 to 640,000. The number of those who left their jobs voluntarily fell by 140,000 to 980,000.

The jobless rate has been declining in most age brackets but remains high among young people.

Unemployment among males between the ages of 15 and 24 stood at 9.5 percent in May, down 1.2 percentage points from a year earlier. The rate for females in the same age bracket stood at 7.2 percent, down 0.6 point.

The unemployment rate for men in the 25 to 34 age bracket was 5.2 percent, down 0.1 point, and 5.2 percent for women, down 1.3 points.

By contrast, the jobless rate for men in the 35 to 44 age bracket was 2.7 percent, down 0.6 point, and 4.2 percent for women, down 0.2 point.

In a separate report, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said the ratio of job offers to job-seekers came to a seasonally adjusted 1.07 in May, up 0.03 point from the previous month.

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