Japan job availability up, unemployment down in January

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People wait for a traffic light at an intersection in Ginza, Tokyo. Photo: AP/Eugene Hoshiko

Japan’s job availability increased and the unemployment rate fell in January, government data showed Tuesday, indicating the immediate impact of the country’s second pandemic-related state of emergency was limited.

The job availability ratio rose to 1.10 in January from 1.05 a month earlier, meaning that there were 110 openings for every 100 job seekers, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said.

The seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 2.9 percent from 3.0 percent for November and December, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said. The December figure was revised up from an earlier-reported 2.9 percent.

Japan declared its second state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic in early January in the Tokyo metropolitan area and expanded it later, asking dining establishments to close early and people to refrain from unnecessary outings. The outbreak has led to a growing number of bankruptcies.

“We can’t deny that the impact of the pandemic was felt but concerns that the state of emergency would worsen (the jobless rate) did not materialize,” an official of the internal affairs ministry said.

The relative resilience of the labor market can be partly attributed to the limited scope of the latest state of emergency that covered just 11 of the country’s 47 prefectures, the official said. The previous emergency declaration covered the whole nation and was fully lifted in May.

Bearing the brunt of the pandemic, the services sector including hotels and restaurants shed jobs. The medical and welfare sector added workers.

The unemployment rate for men was flat at 3.2 percent while that for women was down 0.2 percentage point to 2.6 percent.

Some 2.03 million people were without a job in January, down 70,000 from the previous month. The country had 66.94 million people on payrolls, up 110,000, the internal affairs ministry said.

Economists say jobs data is a lagging indicator of the state of the economy and the impact of the latest state of emergency may appear in coming months. Tokyo and its three neighboring prefectures of Saitama, Kanagawa and Chiba are still under the emergency that is scheduled to end March 7.

Government support for companies seeking to hold onto their employees has also helped prevent a sharp deterioration in employment conditions, allowing the unemployment rate to hover around 3 percent in recent months.

“The jobless rate is unlikely to continue improving,” said Takuya Hoshino, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Given the impact on the overall economy, the jobless rate could have hit 4 percent without government support. Once the state of emergency is lifted and the government moves toward scaling back support, the jobs market will likely take a bigger hit,” Hoshino said.

According to a recent survey by Tokyo Shoko Research, which gathers and analyzes corporate data, 648, or about 17 percent, of some 3,800 listed firms accessed the government assistance program between last April and January.

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