Japan's unemployment rate hit a new all-time high in December of 5.6 percent. Better than expected industrial output figures offer a glimmer of hope for the world's second largest economy as it struggles with its fourth recession in a decade.
The Japanese government said Tuesday that the number of unemployed now stands at 3.37 million. That is nearly 400,000 more jobless people than there were a year ago.
Tokyo says technology companies and large manufacturers continue to slash jobs to stay afloat amid a worldwide slowdown in demand for their products. Low consumption within Japan is forcing small and medium-sized businesses to trim workers as well. The banking sector is also shedding jobs as it copes with mountains of non-performing loans.
Heizo Takenaka, State Minister for the Economy, admits that the jobless numbers surprised him. He says that "the jobless rate reached the level of 5.6 percent faster than he expected" and adds that he is "very concerned."
Japanese Finance Minister Masajuro Shiokawa asked for the public's understanding as the government implements an economic reform plan that will likely lead to more bankruptcies and an even higher jobless rate. He says "businesses have just started to restructure, and that the country must tolerate the jobless situation for now."
Data out Tuesday from the country's auto industry confirmed the slowdown in both exports and domestic consumption. The Japanese Automobile Manufacturers' Association said that the production of vehicles fell 9.5 percent in December, a drop of more than 700,000 units from the same period last year.
But there was good news on overall industrial output. It rose more than two-percent in December from a month earlier.