Korea's jobless rate down to 4.9 pct in FebSEOUL, March 17 -- Korea's jobless rate inched down in February from a month earlier, though it remained at a high level amid companies' continued reluctance to hire despite a faster-than-expected recovery, a government report showed Wednesday.
The jobless rate stood at 4.9 percent last month, compared with 5 percent the previous month, according to the report by Statistics Korea. The January jobless rate was the highest since March 2001.
The seasonally adjusted jobless rate was also down to 4.4 percent from the previous month's 4.8 percent. The number of employed people increased to 22.86 million last month, up 125,000 from a year earlier, compared with 5,000 added to payrolls in January.
"Despite steady job contraction in the agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors, expanded recruitment in non-agricultural area including health, social welfare, transportation and manufacturing industries drove up the overall job growth," the statistics agency said in a press release.
"Traditionally, February is a month of sluggish job markets as students rush to find work after graduation but last month's jobless rate and job creation show that such downside pressure is not as high as expected," it added.
Job creation remains a top priority for the government, which aims to bolster domestic demand and accelerate the nation's economic rebound amid some mixed economic signals.
Industrial output continued to expand in January with exports on its track to a rebound. But the key indicator on future economic outlooks fell for the first time in 13 months, raising fears that the recovery might be losing steam.
The job market has been propped up mostly by the government-led efforts to provide working positions in the public sector. But the conditions remain tough as companies are unwilling to hire for fear of economic uncertainties, experts noted.
Amid mounting debate over when to roll back stimulus measures taken to tide over the global recession, the government has said it will keep its expansionary macroeconomic policy for the time being until the private sector can grow on its own without state support.
The nation's central bank also kept its key interest rate unchanged at a record low of 2 percent for the 13th straight month in a recently held rate-setting meeting.
"Despite rising business confidence through 2009, Korean firms were reluctant to hire out of concern that the recovery was not sustainable," said Alaistair Chan, an associate economist at Moody's Economy.com, in an e-mail press release sent before Seoul's job data was unveiled. His company is under Moody's Corp.
"Unemployment is expected to have declined in February. Strong business sentiment may have increased hiring, but the main reason is that the government's job program is picking up again," he added.
In a separate report later in the day, the Finance Ministry expected that the overall employment situation will improve down the road, as an economic recovery and the government-led job creation will be paying off.
Yoon Jong-won, head of the economic policy bureau at the ministry, told reporters that job offerings will accelerate in March with about 300,000 new workers expected to be added to payrolls compared with a year earlier.
The relatively bright outlook is mostly driven by the government's job creation efforts in the public sector and steadily increasing recruitment in the private sector, he added.