TOKYO – Japan’s unemployment rate in February was unchanged from the previous month at 2.4 percent, remaining low due to the country’s labor shortage, with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic yet to appear in the data, government figures showed Tuesday.
Separate data from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare showed that the job availability ratio in February stood at 1.45, down from 1.49 in January to hit its lowest level in two years and 11 months.
The ratio means there were 145 job openings for every 100 job seekers. A labor ministry official said jobs in sectors related to tourism were affected by the virus outbreak.
The seasonally adjusted number of unemployed people in the reporting month rose 20,000, or 1.2 percent, from January to 1.66 million, mainly due to an increase in the number of people who quit their jobs involuntarily, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
Among them, 730,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, up 10,000 from a month earlier, 410,000 were laid off, up 40,000, and 390,000 were new job seekers, down 10,000.
A ministry official told reporters that declines in the numbers of nonregular workers in such fields as the manufacturing sector are likely to have affected the overall jobless rate. Nonregular positions were notably reduced at auto-related firms, whose business circumstances worsened due to the prolonged U.S.-China trade war.
Maintaining the ministry’s view that Japan’s employment situation “has been steadily improving,” the official said the impact of the coronavirus outbreak did not affect the figures in the reporting month, but that the government will “keep watching the impact closely.”
But Munehisa Tamura, a researcher at the Daiwa Institute of Research, pointed out that the average number of days and hours worked in February fell nearly 4 percent from the previous month, reflecting a stagnation of economic activities due to the virus outbreak that did not show up in the unemployment rate.
“If the economic situation further worsens, companies are highly likely to become unable to cover (their losses) by adjusting working days and hours per person, possibly leading them to reduce the number of employees,” Tamura said.
“At least until the virus pandemic is stamped out, it’s important for the government to take financial steps to help business operators maintain employment and support those who lost opportunities to work.”
Before seasonal adjustment, the number of people in work grew for the 86th straight month from year-before levels, up 350,000 to 66.91 million in February. Of those, 29.73 million were women, up 280,000 from a year earlier.
The percentage of the working-age population between 15 and 64 years old with jobs rose 0.5 point from a year earlier to 77.7 percent. The ratio for women with jobs in that age group grew 0.7 point to 70.9 percent, while that for men was 84.3 percent, up 0.3 point.