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The unemployment rate in January remained unchanged from the previous month at 4.9 percent, the government said Tuesday, stressing the level was still high.

The seasonally adjusted figure matched the average forecast in a survey of economists.

The number of jobless people dropped by 140,000 from a year earlier to 3.09 million for the eighth consecutive month of fall, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

“The number of unemployed has been falling recently and this suggests a recovery trend. But the unemployment rate remains high and we have to exercise caution,” a ministry official said.

The jobless rate for men dropped to 5.3 percent in January from 5.4 percent in December for the second straight monthly improvement. The rate for women slid to 4.2 percent from 4.3 percent, also the second consecutive month of decline.

The number of people dismissed from their jobs fell by 200,000 to 830,000, another sign regarded by the government as positive.

Separate data showed job availability improved. The ratio of job offers to job seekers rose to 0.61 in January, meaning 61 jobs were available for every 100 job seekers, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.

Wages rise again

Average monthly wages at companies with at least five employees edged up 0.2 percent to ¥272,719 per worker in January from a year earlier, rising for the 11th straight month, the labor ministry said Tuesday.

Scheduled wages, which center on basic salary, dropped 0.5 percent to ¥241,725, falling for the first time in two months, apparently due to a rise in the percentage of part-time workers, according to preliminary data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Unscheduled wages, which include overtime pay, gained 2.5 percent to ¥18,025, up for the 13th straight month. Overtime climbed 2.1 percent to 9.7 hours.

Overtime in the manufacturing sector, seen as a key economic indicator, saw a 6.6 percent increase to 13.0 hours, gaining for 14 months running.

“We’ve been seeing an uptrend in the total amount of wages, but as the economic outlook remains uncertain amid the yen’s strength and higher oil prices, we need to keep a careful eye on further developments,” a ministry official said.

The number of regular employees gained 0.8 percent to 44.20 million, of whom 31.88 million were full-time workers, up 0.4 percent, marking the first gain in two years and one month. Part-timers rose 1.7 percent to 12.32 million.

Spending down 1%

Average household spending fell a price-adjusted 1.0 percent in January from a year earlier to ¥289,191 for the fourth consecutive month of decline, the government said Tuesday.

Weakening auto sales as well as less spending on such purposes as travel and dining out more than offset an increase in communications expenses, including phone bills, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said in a preliminary report.

The result, a key indicator for private consumption, was less sluggish than expected. A Kyodo News survey found that the average market forecast was for a 1.3 percent fall.

The monthly income of salaried households stood at an average of ¥419,728, down a real 3.5 percent year on year, or the sharpest fall in 13 months, the ministry said.

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