• Kyodo, Bloomberg


Japan’s unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage point in September from a month earlier to 2.4 percent, worsening for the first time in six months and reflecting an increase in the number of people seeking jobs, government data showed Friday.

The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed was 1.67 million in September — up 130,000, or 8.4 percent, from a month earlier — according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Among these, the number of new job seekers rose 90,000 to 420,000. Meanwhile, 690,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, up 10,000 from the previous month, while an unchanged 360,000 people were laid off.

Despite the increase, the unemployment rate remained near 26-year lows amid a chronic labor shortage, as the country faces the rapid graying of its population.

In September, the number of people working hit a record 67.68 million before seasonal adjustment, of whom 30.28 million were women — the highest number since comparable data became available in 1953.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the job availability ratio stood at 1.57, down from 1.59 in August. The ratio means there were 157 openings for every 100 job seekers. A government official said, “The employment environment has been steadily improving.”

The percentage of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years old in employment remained 77.9 percent for the fourth consecutive month, staying at its highest since comparable data became available in 1968.

The ratio for men in that age group remained 84.1 percent, while that for women rose 1.3 points to a record 71.6 percent.

Japan’s aging population and its chronic labor shortages have created a headache for employers, but low jobless rates have supported consumer spending and provided a key prop to growth amid an export slump this year.

On Thursday the Bank of Japan refrained from adding stimulus, maintaining its view that private consumption remains in a moderate uptrend amid an improving job market and relatively solid wages.

But the consumption tax hike to 10 percent, which went into effect Oct. 1, is likely to cloud that picture, at least in the short term, economists say.

“Looking ahead, we think the labor market will remain tight overall, though with some slack appearing in 4Q,” Bloomberg’s Asia economist team wrote in a statement Friday. “The increase in the sales tax should crimp demand for workers in October. The challenging external environment may also limit demand for labor.”

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