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South Korea unemployment inches down in Sept as fiscal spending boosts healthcare jobs

Job seekers look at job advertisements at a local job fair in Seoul.   © AP

SEOUL (Reuters) -- South Korea's unemployment rate fell in September, recovering from an eight-year high in August, as increased fiscal spending in the healthcare sector boosted jobs even as manufacturers and retailers shed workers.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent in September from 4.2 percent in seasonally adjusted terms as the number of employed rose by 45,000 people from a year earlier, marking the biggest increase since June, a Statistics Korea report showed on Friday.

Analysts surveyed by Reuters expected unemployment would be in a range of 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent, with many forecasting a slow recovery in the job market due to ongoing restructuring in the manufacturing sector as well as President Moon Jae-in's controversial policies to sharply raise minimum wages.

The healthcare and social services sector saw jobs increasing by 133,000 in September from a year earlier, thanks to "the government's efforts to improve healthcare and add social workers in the sector," a Statistics Korea official said after the data was published.

The number of people with jobs increased by 137,000 in September from a year earlier, the report showed.

"We're seeing the data bottoming out, although we need to wait and see if the upturn (in job growth) will hold up," said Park Sang-hyun, an economist at Leading Investment & Securities in Seoul.

"It won't be easy to see fast job growth from the manufacturing sector as corporate investment isn't strong."

Friday's report showed manufacturers shed 42,000 jobs from a year earlier, while retailers cut another 100,000 jobs after similar declines in August.

President Moon has seen his popularity slide this summer as jobs vanished amid aggressive minimum wage hikes by the government and corporate restructuring.

His support dropped to 49 percent in early September, a weekly Gallup Korea survey showed, the lowest since he took office in May 2017 as the worst unemployment figures since the global financial crisis sparked a strong public backlash.

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