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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japanese Jobless Rate Hits High

TOKYO -- A shrinking economy and spreading layoffs drove Japan's jobless rate to a record 4.6 percent in February, the government said Tuesday, sapping hopes the country would soon emerge from its darkest recession since World War II.

The unemployment rate jumped sharply from the previous month's 4.4 percent - a record for three straight months - and swelled the ranks of jobless to a historical 3 million.

"I have to admit that the situation in February was harsher than expected," Taiichi Sakaiya, chief of the Economic Planning Agency, was quoted as saying by Kyodo News agency. "The strength of the recovery is very weak."

The sour figures come as Japan is battling its deepest economic slowdown in 50 years. The government has pumped trillions of yen into the economy in an all-out campaign to prod consumers to spend.

The rising jobless rate also hits Japan weeks after the government announced the economy shrank for the fifth straight quarter in the final three months of last year - putting the economy on track to contract for the second straight fiscal year for the first time since the war.

The new jobless rate cements the reversal of fortunes between Japan and its top economic competitor, the United States. In the 1980s, it seemed Japan was on track to supplant the United States as the world's supreme economic power. Now Japan is suffering from an unemployment rate that is pulling further ahead of the U.S. rate of 4.3 percent.