• Kyodo

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Job availability rose to its highest level in over four decades in May, government data showed Friday, highlighting evidence that labor is in short supply.

The country’s jobless rate rose to 3.1 percent in May from 2.8 percent in April, partly because people quit their jobs in search of better employment, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said.

Strong exports to Asia have boosted Japan’s economy, which has been in its third-longest expansion phase in the postwar era. Companies, gradually stepping up output, are in an increasingly intense hunt for workers.

The ratio of job offers to job seekers improved to 1.49 in May from 1.48 in April, the best level since February 1974, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. It means that 149 positions were available for every 100 people seeking employment.

On the back of the export-led recovery, domestic demand has also shown signs of picking up, even though economists say private consumption lacks strength as wage growth is tepid.

Household spending fell 0.1 percent from a year ago to ¥283,056 ($2,530), marking the 15th straight monthly decline, the internal affairs ministry said, and its longest losing streak since 2001 when comparable data became available.

Spending “remains weak but there are also moves toward recovery,” a government official said.

Japanese consumers reduced spending on clothes, shoes, food and housing. But spending on transportation, communication services and social expenses increased.

The average income of salaried households with two or more people dropped 1.7 percent from a year ago to ¥421,497, down for the third consecutive month.

“The bottom line is that the corporate sector is doing well but the household sector is still weak in the economy,” said Yusuke Shimoda, senior economist at the Japan Research Institute.

At a time when income growth is sluggish, economists say rising prices of gasoline and perishables such as seafood used widely in people’s daily lives will have a negative impact on consumer sentiment.

Shimoda said labor shortages are particularly severe in the nonmanufacturing sector, but companies are facing difficulty in finding workers as job seekers tend to view conditions offered as unappealing.

“Unless such a mismatch can be resolved, corporate managers will likely find themselves in a tougher situation,” he said.

The unemployment rate for men rose 0.3 point to 3.2 percent, while joblessness for women increased 0.3 point to 2.9 percent, the internal affairs ministry said.

The number of unemployed people jumped a seasonally adjusted 10.2 percent to 2.05 million, reflecting a rise in those leaving jobs “voluntarily.” Japan had 65.19 million workers in May.

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