The unemployment rate edged up 0.1 percentage point from the previous month to 2.5 percent in January, reflecting a rising number of women quitting their jobs for better positions amid the tightest labor market in decades, government data showed Friday.
The jobless rate marked the first rise in two months, though it stayed around its lowest level in 26 years, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
The job availability ratio stood at 1.63, staying flat from December, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said. The ratio means there were 163 openings for every 100 job seekers.
“The unemployment rate for January rose but there is no change in the trend of steadily improving labor conditions,” an internal affairs ministry official told reporters.
A total of 750,000 people voluntarily left jobs during the reporting month, up 10,000 from December. The number of those who newly started to seek jobs rose by 60,000 to 440,000, while 390,000 people were laid off, up 20,000.
Unemployment among men was steady at 2.5 percent while among women it rose 0.3 percentage point to 2.5 percent.
The total number of people without jobs, seasonally unadjusted, grew 70,000 in January from a year earlier to 1.66 million for the first rise since April 2010.
But the internal affairs ministry attributed the increase to a sharp drop in job-seekers in the previous year due to heavy snow and a cold snap, and maintained that the improvement in the labor market remains unchanged.
The uptick in the jobless rate shows that companies are actively hiring and more workers are moving to seek better labor conditions, economists said.
“It does not mean that the labor market is getting worse,” said Takuji Aida, chief economist at Societe Generale Securities. “If the job-seekers go on and land jobs smoothly, the number of employed will increase and the unemployment rate will fall gradually.”
The percentage of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years old with jobs was 76.8 percent, rising 0.9 point from the previous year. The share of men with jobs in that age bracket was 83.7 percent, while that of women was 69.7 percent.
Figures for the 20-69 age group, which the ministry released for the first time in January to better reflect labor market conditions, showed the ratio of employed was 77.7 percent, up 1.1 point from the previous year.
To address the country’s graying population, the Diet passed a bill in December, pushed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to attract foreign workers from April into its labor-hungry sectors, including construction, farming and nursing care.
It marked a major policy shift for the country, which had effectively granted working visas only to doctors, lawyers and others with professional knowledge and high-level skills. Under the new visa system, the government estimates Japan will accept up to around 345,000 foreign workers over the next five years.