Japan's job availability logged its first drop in five months in February amid the government's second state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Tuesday.
The job-to-applicant ratio worsened to 1.09 from 1.10 in January, according to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, meaning that there were 109 job openings for every 100 job seekers. But it was still higher than 1.05 marked in December.
Separate data from the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry showed the February jobless rate stood at 2.9%, unchanged from the previous month.
In response to a third wave of virus infections that began in November, Japan declared its second state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic in early January in the Tokyo metropolitan area and expanded it to other regions later, asking dining establishments to close early and people to refrain from unnecessary outings.
The measure was in place until March 21.
"The impact of the state of emergency on the jobless rate was not as significant as that of the first one declared last spring," a government official told reporters.
The government's first state of emergency, effective nationwide from April to May last year with more comprehensive requests for nonessential businesses to suspend operations and people to stay home, triggered a sharp deterioration of employment conditions as well as the country's worst recession on record.
The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed was 2.03 million, unchanged from January. Among them, 710,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, down 30,000, while 660,000 were laid off, up 30,000, and 560,000 were new job seekers, up 10,000.
The number of people in work rose 30,000 from the previous month to 66.97 million, up for the second consecutive month.
Meanwhile, the number of unemployed people increased 350,000 to 1.94 million in February from a year earlier, up for the 13th straight month, suggesting that the pandemic has continued to affect the labor market. The figure is unadjusted for seasonal factors.
By sector, the number of workers in the accommodation and food service industry dropped 460,000 from a year earlier to 3.59 million, bearing the brunt of the virus emergency. In contrast, those in education, plus the medical and welfare sector grew 250,000 to 3.55 million and 240,000 to 8.84 million, respectively.
The number of furloughed employees increased 320,000 from the previous year to 2.28 million in February, slower than a rise of 500,000 in January.
"In addition to the government's continuous support, efforts by firms, such as dispatching furloughed workers to sectors in need instead of laying them off, are likely to have prevented further deterioration of the employment situation," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at the Norinchukin Research Institute.
But Minami said he did not expect the jobless rate to improve markedly in the near future, saying restaurants and bars in some areas are still being asked to cut their operating hours even after the virus emergency has been lifted, although the requested closing time was extended by one hour to 9 p.m.
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