• Kyodo

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The unemployment rate was unchanged in December from the previous month, at 2.2 percent, reflecting an ongoing labor shortage due to the rapidly graying population, government data showed Friday.

In the reporting month the number of unemployed was 1.45 million, down 140,000 from a year earlier, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

Among them, 620,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, down 110,000 from a year earlier, 370,000 were looking for a new job, up 10,000, and 200,000 had been laid off, unchanged from a year earlier.

The number of people with jobs grew for the 84th straight month, up 810,000 from a year earlier at 67.37 million in December. Of those, 30 million were women, up 660,000 from a year earlier, and 9.02 million were 65 or over, up 470,000.

A ministry official said that the employment situation was “continuing to improve” as more women and those in their 60s or older find jobs.

Koichi Fujishiro, senior economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said the decline in the number of unemployed suggested that the structural labor crunch trend would not reverse any time soon.

“While the jobless rate stays at the same low level as that of the economic bubble period (of the late 1980s and early 90s), the conditions of a shortage of labor will continue,” he said.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed that the job availability ratio in December stood at 1.57, unchanged since September. The ratio indicates that there were 157 job openings for every 100 people seeking jobs.

The percentage of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years old with jobs rose 0.9 point from a year earlier, to 77.9 percent. The ratio for women with jobs in that age group grew 1.7 points to 71.3 percent, while that for men was 84.4 percent, up 0.1 point.

The annual average jobless rate for 2019 stood at 2.4 percent, unchanged from 2018 and the lowest level since 1992.

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