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Economy

Japan's April jobless rate rises to 2.8% under COVID cloud

Slow return to pre-pandemic employment levels expected in US and elsewhere

A worker cleans a counter at a pub in Nagoya. Japan's coronavirus restrictions have disproportionately hurt part-time workers, many of whom are women.   © Kyodo

TOKYO -- Japan's jobless rate stood at 2.8% in April, compared with 2.6% the previous month, the Statistics Bureau said Friday, as the country struggles with a fitful economic recovery while enduring the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of people in jobs fell for the second straight month, to 66.58 million, down 0.4% on the month and off 1.3% from February 2020, before COVID-19 hit.

Parts of Japan including Tokyo and Osaka have been under a state of emergency since April 25. This was preceded by another decree lasting from Jan. 8 to March 21.

The extended restrictions on activities such as dining and travel have disproportionately hurt the restaurant and hotel industries as well as nonregular workers, many of whom are women.

Compared with February 2020, the number of nonregular workers is down 3.6%, while that for regular workers is up 0.3%, indicating a gradual shift toward hiring regular workers.

Women, who make up 68% of nonregular workers, have borne the brunt of the job losses.

Nonregular workers are concentrated in sectors such as restaurants, retail and clerical services, while sectors that are expanding employment include information technology and health care. "The structure of the economy has shifted, but workforce hasn't shifted accordingly," said Takuya Hoshino, an economist at Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga's government is considering up to 300,000 yen ($2,730) in additional benefits for low-income families who do not already receive welfare support. Job training programs also are being expanded, but landing work now is more difficult.

The jobless rate stood at 2.4% before the pandemic.

Japan's economy shrank 1.3% in the January-March period from the previous quarter, for an annualized pace of 5.1%. An April-June recovery appears increasingly uncertain, with the current state of emergency expected to be extended through June 20.

Labor markets in other countries also are struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. The U.S. jobless rate in April was 6.1%, compared with 3.5% before the pandemic. Fitch Ratings anticipates it will take 18 months, until the fourth quarter of 2022, for the U.S. to regain full employment.

In separately released employment data, the ratio of Japan's job openings to applicants stood at 1.09 in April, compared with 1.10 in March. A reading above 1 indicates that more jobs are available than people seeking employment.

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