Japan's job availability fell to its lowest level in almost seven years in September, with many returning to the labor market following a gradual resumption of economic activity that had been slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, government data showed Friday.

The job-to-applicant ratio worsened to 1.03 from 1.04 in August, falling for the ninth month in a row to its lowest level since December 2013, according to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare. The ratio means there were 103 job openings for every 100 job seekers.

Job seekers wait their turn for consultations at HelloWork job center in Tokyo on Aug. 31, 2020. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

But the level of deterioration was less severe than a 0.04 point fall in August and a 0.12 point plunge in May, the sharpest monthly drop in over 46 years logged in the wake of the government's state of emergency declaration over the virus in early April.

Separate data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showed the jobless rate in September stood at 3.0 percent, unchanged from August, when it increased for the second consecutive month.

The results showed the pandemic's initial heavy blow to the country's labor market has been gradually easing, although it remained in a severe condition even after the complete lifting of a state of emergency declaration over the virus in late May.

The number of furloughed employees stood at 5.97 million in April but it decreased to 1.97 million in September, falling below the 2 million mark for the first time in seven months.

In September, the number of jobless people, before seasonal adjustment, increased 420,000 from a year earlier to 2.10 million, up for the eighth straight month.

That of people in work fell 790,000 to 66.89 million, down for the sixth consecutive month.

"The (employment) situation remains severe (amid the pandemic) but the unemployment rate is holding," a government official said.

Of those with jobs, 35.29 million were regular workers, rising 480,000 from a year earlier and up for the fourth month in a row, while 20.79 million were nonregular employees, falling 1.23 million and down for the seventh consecutive month.

By industry, the accommodation and restaurant services sector, one of the industries hit hardest by the pandemic, saw a larger fall in the number of workers than any other industry, losing 480,000 from the previous year to 4.03 million.

In manufacturing, the number fell 390,000 to 10.29 million.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, the number of unemployed inched up 10,000 from August to 2.06 million. Among them, 740,000 people voluntarily left their jobs, up 30,000, and 650,000 were laid off, up 60,000, while 510,000 were new job seekers, down 20,000.

Takuya Hoshino, an economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute, said the government's measures to support business operators, such as subsidies to keep people in work, have so far been effective, leaving the jobless rate lower than initially expected when the virus began to spread in Japan.

"In comparison with the global financial crisis (in 2008), bankruptcies have not sharply increased thanks to the government's financial assistance, which enabled firms to retain workers," Hoshino said.

"If the measures were downscaled or withdrawn, the situation could get worse again," he warned.

Hoshino also said pressure on companies to reduce their workforce will remain as the country's economic condition has yet to bounce back to pre-pandemic levels. "Slow deterioration of the figures may drag on for some time," he added.