Japanese Jobseekers Hold Tokyo Pep Rally

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TOKYO (AP) - With cheerleaders shouting encouragement, more than 1,000 young Japanese trying to break into the job market held a pep rally in Tokyo on Tuesday to underscore what officials say is the bleakest employment outlook Japan has faced in years.

About 1,500 college students crowded into a park to offer each other moral support and appeal for jobs at the rally, which organizers hoped would put the national spotlight on the difficulties job seekers are dealing with in Japan's once-mighty economy.

"It's a very tough situation, but I won't give up," said 19-year-old student Misato Shinotsuka.

A record one-third of Japanese university students graduating this spring have not found jobs, according to a recent survey by the labor and education ministries.

The survey found less than 70 percent of university students had secured employment as of Dec. 1 - the lowest level since 1996, when the government began collecting data. It was almost 5 percentage points worse than last year.

The situation is even starker for junior college students, who made up the bulk of Tuesday's rally. Fewer than half of those graduating in March have jobs, the report said. Officials surveyed 6,250 students at 62 universities and 20 junior colleges across Japan.

Japan's unemployment rate is about 5 percent, high by the country's historical standards.

A problem job seekers face is the reluctance of companies to hire amid a persistently high yen - which eats into the profits of exporters - and uncertainty about the global economy. Another major issue is corporate Japan's reluctance to boost jobs because firing workers is difficult.

Alarmed by the squeeze, the government has announced it will offer companies money to hire graduating students and is organizing nationwide job fairs featuring small and mid-size companies that may have been overlooked by job seekers.

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AP Television News cameraman Koji Ueda and producer Miles Edelsten contributed to this report.
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