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Unemployment rate hit a nine-year low of 4.1 percent in fiscal 2006, down from 4.3 percent the previous year, the government said Friday.

The unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight year after peaking at 5.4 percent in fiscal 2002, reflecting a tightening in the labor market amid the longest economic boom in the postwar era.

Also contributing was stronger demand for workers from the corporate sector as an increasing number of baby boomers reached retirement age, the government said.

The rate is the lowest since fiscal 1997, when it was 3.5 percent.

In fiscal 2006, the number of people without jobs averaged 2.71 million per month, down 180,000 from the previous year for the fourth consecutive yearly decline, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare show the average ratio of job offers to job seekers in fiscal 2006 rose 0.08 point from the previous year to 1.06.

The index means there were 106 job offers for every 100 job seekers. It was the first time in 14 years that the index topped 1.0.

The monthly average number of job offers rose 3.4 percent from the previous year, while the figure for job seekers dropped 4.4 percent.

Breaking down the jobless data, the internal affairs ministry said the number of jobholders climbed by 240,000 to an average 63.89 million, up for the fourth year.

The average unemployment rate for men came to a nine-year low of 4.2 percent in fiscal 2006, compared with 4.5 percent the previous year.

The average jobless rate for women was 3.9 percent, down 0.2 percentage point and moving into the 3.0 percent level for the first time in nine years on a fiscal-year basis.

By age, the average jobless rate for males aged 15 to 24 logged 8.9 percent in fiscal 2006, the highest percentage among all categories, while that for females in the same age bracket stood at 7.2 percent.

The figures, however, were down 0.7 point for men and 0.2 point for women from fiscal 2005, the internal affairs ministry said.

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