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Japan Aug. job availability sees 1st deterioration in 4 months

A man sits near a window as people wearing face masks walk along a pedestrian crossing at Shibuya district on Sept. 30, 2021, in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan's job availability in August worsened for the first time in four months as the government's state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic was expanded due to a resurgence in infection numbers, government data showed Friday.

    The job-to-applicant ratio inched down to 1.14 from 1.15 in July, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The ratio means there were 114 job openings for every 100 job seekers.

    The ratio rose 0.02 from June to July before this latest decline.

    Separate data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showed the jobless rate in the reporting month stood at 2.8 percent, unchanged from July, when it dropped 0.1 percentage point from June for the second consecutive monthly decline.

    Throughout August, the virus emergency was in place in Tokyo and the southern island prefecture of Okinawa, where the measure was imposed in mid-July and late May, respectively.

    The step was repeatedly expanded and eventually covered 21 out of Japan's 47 prefectures by the end of August, amid a resurgence of infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant.

    The emergency dampened consumption and dealt a heavy blow to the economy, as people were asked to refrain from making nonessential outings and restaurants and bars were requested to stop serving alcohol and close by 8 p.m.

    "The impact of the pandemic on employment conditions has continued to be seen strongly, especially in the service sector," a government official told reporters.

    Following a recent drop in the number of COVID-19 cases in the country, the virus emergency was completely lifted Friday throughout Japan.

    The rate of fully vaccinated people in Japan is approaching 60 percent of the population, catching up with other major economies after the relatively slow rollout and raising hopes for a full-fledged economic recovery.

    The total number of unemployed people in August increased 10,000 from the previous month to 1.91 million, up for the first time in three months. Meanwhile, people in work dropped 320,000 to 66.76 million, the first decline in three months.

    The seasonally unadjusted figures showed that workers in the accommodation and restaurant service sectors, among the most impacted by the virus-related restrictions, decreased 6.4 percent from a year earlier to 3.66 million, seeing a sharper drop than any other industry.

    Medical and welfare worker numbers grew 3.5 percent to 8.91 million, with the official saying demand may have surged as the government promoted its COVID-19 vaccination campaign across Japan.

    Naoko Ogata, a senior economist at the Japan Research Institute, said the outcome showed "a steady move generally" toward recovery in the labor market despite the worsened virus situation and the emergency expansion, citing a decline in the number of unemployed people from a year ago.

    Compared with a year earlier, the number of unemployed people fell 130,000 to 1.93 million for the second straight monthly decline.

    "Some fields such as academic research and manufacturing seem to have already started to hire in anticipation of the resumption in economic activity amid the nation's chronic worker shortage that has been basically unchanged, even under the pandemic," Ogata said.

    Looking forward, Ogata pointed out the number of people on payrolls will very likely keep rising, but the possibility will remain that virus cases could surge again. "Therefore, the figure is expected to recover at a slow pace, not instantly and rapidly," she said.

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