A worker holds an umbrella as another works at an intersection in Tokyo. Japan's unemployment rate rose to 3 percent in August, official data showed. Photo: AFP / Charly Triballeau

Japan’s unemployment rate rose to 3.0% in August, the highest figure since mid-2017, official data showed Friday, illustrating the pandemic’s effect on the country’s tight labor market.

The figure, up a tenth of a percentage point from July, is the first time since May 2017 that the rate has stood at three percent or higher, according to the internal affairs ministry data.

Separate data compiled by the labor ministry showed there were only 104 job openings for every 100 job-seekers in August, worsening from 108 to 100 in the previous month. 

Japan was already struggling with the effects of natural disasters and a hike in consumption tax before the coronavirus pandemic crippled the global economy.

Once it hit, there were no mandatory lockdowns in the country, with the government instead asking people to stay at home – a request that was largely heeded.

But that, coupled with a shuttering of the country’s borders, battered tourism and consumer spending, with the hospitality industry hit particularly hard.

Japan’s labor market is notoriously tight, with employers struggling to hire and the working-age population shrinking in a rapidly aging society.

Former prime minister Shinzo Abe sought to address that by bringing more women and older people into the workforce, as well as slightly loosening the country’s strict immigration policy.

His successor Yoshihide Suga, who took office last month, has pledged to continue Abe’s policies.