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Economy

South Korea unemployment rate soars to 21-year high

January figure jumps to 5.4%, highest since 1999

A homeless man rests at an underground shopping district in Seoul in 2016.   © Reuters

SEOUL (Reuters) -- South Korea's unemployment rate soared to a 21-year high in January, while the number of people employed fell at the sharpest pace in more than two decades, as curbs to contain the coronavirus continue to hurt the job market.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate jumped to 5.4% in January, the highest since 1999, data from the Statistics Korea showed.

Wednesday's data comes as yet another blow to self-styled "Jobs President" Moon Jae-in, as jobs vanishing at the fastest pace in decades amid the coronavirus pandemic hurt his party ahead of April elections to pick mayors for the two largest cities, Seoul and Busan.

The number of employed declined by 982,000 in January from a year earlier, the fastest pace since 1998, as toughened COVID-19 distancing measures amid a third wave of infections struck businesses.

"Strengthened measures that has been kept in place to contain the third wave of the COVID-19 have led to job losses, especially hurting the service sector," the finance ministry said in a statement after the data was released.

Breakdowns showed workers at retailers, accommodation facilities and restaurants were the hardest hit, losing 586,000 jobs from a year earlier.

South Korea has been trying clamp down on the number of infections by imposing strict social distancing measures, including a ban on indoor restaurant dining after 9 p.m. It has since eased that curfew on more than half a million restaurants and other businesses outside the capital Seoul after a backlash.

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