The unemployment rate fell to 2.3 percent in February, the lowest in nine months, as women who quit jobs to look for better work the previous month landed positions amid the tightest labor market in decades, government data showed Friday.
The jobless rate fell 0.2 point from January, after rising 0.1 point the previous month, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. The unemployment level among women dropped 0.3 point from the previous month to 2.2 percent, while that for men was unchanged at 2.5 percent.
The job availability ratio stood at 1.63, staying flat from January, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said. The ratio means there were 163 openings for every 100 job seekers.
“The outcome shows that, due to the labor shortage and to the job availability level remaining high, people are successfully finding jobs,” a ministry official told reporters.
“The unemployment rate is the lowest in around 26 years and the labor environment is steadily improving,” he said.
A total of 670,000 people chose to leave their jobs during the reporting month, down 80,000 from the month before, while 370,000 were laid off, down 20,000.
The rate of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years old with jobs was 77.2 percent, up 1.2 point from the previous year. The rate for men was 84.0 percent and 70.2 percent for women.
Takuji Aida, chief economist at Societe Generale Securities, said companies looking to expand are expected to hire even more actively ahead of the start of fiscal 2019 in April.
“While downside risks to business sentiment and to the labor environment remain, such as global political, economic and market uncertainties, companies are unlikely to cut their labor forces as retraining and rehiring workers are big costs,” Aida said.
The latest data reflect a serious labor crunch in graying Japan, but this has not translated into strong increases in wages, analysts said.
In this spring’s annual management-labor negotiations, most major Japanese companies offered a smaller pay-scale hike than last year amid uncertainty over the global economy due to factors such as China’s slowdown.
The companies were reluctant to adopt pay-scale hikes, which would increase fixed costs, and instead offered to improve labor conditions through such measures as enhancing benefits for working parents.