• Kyodo News

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The unemployment rate in May inched up to 5.2 percent, worsening for the third straight month, reflecting companies’ reluctance to add to payrolls due to uncertain economic prospects amid Europe’s sovereign debt woes, government data showed Tuesday.

But preliminary readings by the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry also indicated that the number of job cuts stemming from corporate restructuring and business failures has dropped in the past two months.

Job availability also improved in May, as the ratio of job offers to job seekers climbed to 0.50 from 0.48 in April, according to a report by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. That means 50 jobs were available for every 100 job seekers.

But an official at the internal affairs ministry said the figures are still hovering at high levels.

“We need to remain on guard,” the official said.

Echoing that view, Health, Labor and Welfare Minister Akira Nagatsuma said the administration “will take all possible means” to prevent employment conditions from getting worse.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who places priority on fiscal consolidation and economic growth, will be tested on his ability to improve labor conditions, which have been sluggish since the global financial crisis sparked by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse in late 2008.

“The steep economic recovery, which was recently observed, has already come to an end,” Hideki Matsumura, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute said, noting that the rate of decline in the number of job holders has not slowed so steadily.

The jobless rate hit an all-time high of 5.6 percent last July. It fell below 5.0 percent in January for the first time in 10 months before rising back above that line in March.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for May was up 0.1 percentage point from the previous month’s 5.1 percent.

The official at the internal affairs ministry said the monthly difference before rounding was even smaller, as the figure came in at 5.17 in May compared with 5.14 in April.

The unemployment rate among people aged 15 to 24 was particularly high.

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