• Kyodo

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Japan's unemployment rate worsened to 3.0% in May, hitting the highest level in five months, as a government-declared state of emergency over the COVID-19 pandemic was extended to more of the country, official data showed Tuesday.

The seasonally adjusted jobless rate rose from 2.8% in April, up for the second straight month, according to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry. It had remained in the upper half of the 2% range since logging 3.0% in December.

Separate data from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed that the job availability ratio in May was unchanged from a month earlier at 1.09, meaning that there were 109 job openings for every 100 job-seekers. It fell 0.01 point in April.

In the final week of the reporting month, 10 out of the nation's 47 prefectures were under a third virus state of emergency, which was initially declared in late April for Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo but expanded later.

With requests for people to stay home, alcohol-serving establishments to close temporarily and other commercial facilities to cut operating hours, the measure was repeatedly extended beyond the initial end date of May 11, dealing a blow to the world's third-largest economy.

Except for the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, the state of emergency was lifted last week. But among the 10 prefectures, seven — including Tokyo — have shifted to a quasi-state of emergency that allows for targeted anti-virus measures in specific areas rather than whole prefectures.

The latest data showed that the number of people in work fell 130,000 from the previous month, to 66.45 million, down for the third consecutive month.

The number of people unemployed increased 100,000 from April, to 2.04 million. Among them, 810,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, up 70,000, while 630,000 were laid off, up 30,000, and 480,000 were new job-seekers, down 10,000.

The gender gap in the jobless rate narrowed, as that for men was flat at 3.2% while that for women was up 0.4 percentage point to 2.7%.

"The outcome seems to reflect the fact that more female workers continued to look for new jobs," a government official told reporters, saying that such women included those who had been laid off as companies struggled due to the pandemic as well as those who voluntarily quit their jobs.

Megumi Wada, a researcher at the Daiwa Institute of Research, expects the jobless rate, a lagging indicator of the state of the economy, to keep deteriorating until around the end of the year due to the economic fallout from the state of emergencies.

Japan's economy in the January-March period shrank an annualized 3.9% from the previous quarter due to the state of emergency effective during the period. Many analysts say the country is facing the risk of negative growth in the next quarter.

"Whether the employment situation improves largely depends on how the virus spread develops, since it could hinder the recovery of sectors such as accommodation and restaurant services," Wada said.

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