The unemployment rate climbed for the fifth consecutive month to a five-year high of 4.64 percent last month, with the number of unemployed hitting more than 500,000 as the economic downturn deepens, the Directorate General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics (DGBAS) said in a report yesterday.
With a recession expected to dominate next year, the agency warned of higher unemployment figures after the Lunar New Year holidays, when seasonal employment tapers off.
“The unemployment rate rose 0.27 percentage points, or by 31,000 people, to 4.37 percent last month, the highest since September 2004,” DGBAS Deputy Director Huang Jiann-jong (黃建中) told a media briefing.
The seasonally adjusted figure rose 0.33 percentage points to 4.62 percent — the highest since March 2004, he said.
Huang attributed the rising trend to deepening economic woes and voiced concern about the potential social impact of unemployment among people aged 45 to 64, which shot up 9.98 percent to 100,800 last month.
This age group, normally the financial pillar of households, accounted for 55.5 percent of people who lost their jobs to business closures or downsizing, the report said.
“People who lost their jobs to business closures or downsizing reached 202,000 last month, up 36,000 from October,” Huang said.
Huang also expressed concern about the rising number of workers taking unpaid leave as companies and factories increasingly use the measure to cope with dropping demand.
“The number of people working 35 hours or less per week reached 741,000 last month, up from 536,000 in October,” Huang said. “While they make no contribution to unemployment figures, they will pull down real wage growth if the phenomenon persists.”
The decline in continued to break records in October, the report showed. The nominal wage contracted 0.03 percent for the third month to NT$37,045 (US$1,125) in October, pushing the decline in the real wage to a record 2.89 percent, the report showed.
Huang said the labor market would face tougher challenges in the months ahead.
“The unemployment rate will slow down for the Lunar New Year holidays, when some businesses offer short-term jobs,” he said. “The figure is expected to rise at the end of the holidays.”
However, Ryan Wu (吳睿穎), chief operating officer of the Internet-based 1111 Job Bank (1111 人力銀行), said yesterday that the actual number of unemployed could be greater than government numbers as workers who are paid less than NT$10,000 per month — lower than the minimum of NT$10,368 in monthly subsidy to the unemployed — were not listed as unemployed.
He said the problem would worsen as the economy enters a phase where interest rates, salaries and confidence are at record lows.
Presidential Office Spokesman Wang Yu-chi (王郁琦) said yesterday that the economic crisis was affecting the whole world and that Taiwan was no exception.
He said the government would squarely face the problem in light of the figures.
Wang said the government had already launched an employment promotion project.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has also been prompting the Cabinet to pay attention to the unemployment problem for some time.
Unemployment has been Premier Liu Chao-shiuan’s (劉兆玄) main cause for concern recently.
Last week he invited the Council of Labor Affairs, the Small and Medium Enterprise Administration, the Council for Economic Planning and Development and the National Youth Commission to discuss the implementation of the short-term employment stimulus package announced by the Cabinet not long ago.