Japan's jobless rate held steady in January but consumer spending fell from a year ago, the government said Tuesday, underscoring the fragility of its economic recovery as a political battle rages over the next national budget.
The country's jobless rate stood at 4.9 percent in January, unchanged from December. The seasonally adjusted figure indicates a recovery from the recent downturn, when it crept as high as 5.4 percent in 2009, and matched an average of economist forecasts by the Kyodo news agency.
But the government also said consumer spending fell 1.0 percent in January from a year earlier, as the average salary at working households declined.
The mixed figures reflect economic weakness in Japan, which faces a host of serious problems, including an aging population and a growing national debt. Last week, Moody's Investors Service cut its outlook on Japan's debt rating, questioning the government's power to enact reforms even as it struggles with the highest debt burden among advanced economies.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan's ruling party is trying to pass a fiscal budget against stiff political opposition. The budget plan cleared Japan's more powerful lower house of parliament early Tuesday as the ruling Democrats try to enact it by the start of the fiscal year in April.
Under the Constitution, a budget bill passed by the lower house automatically becomes law if the upper house _ now controlled by the opposition _ does not vote on it within 30 days or votes it down.
The gridlock has made many Japanese disillusioned with politics and critical of Kan in particular. His approval rating has fallen below 20 percent in a recent Kyodo poll, raising questions about the political longevity of the prime minister, Japan's fifth leader in less than four years.
While the general drop in the jobless rate is a sign that the country's corporate recovery may be trickling down to the labor market, the fall in spending is a negative. Exports have driven the Japanese economic recovery so far, but private consumption is a critical part of the equation, making up around 60 percent of GDP.
The latest figures come a day after a separate set of data indicated a recovery for Japan's manufacturers. The government said Monday that industrial production rose for a third straight month in January and that the country's output "continues to show an upward movement."
But deflation continues to loom as a threat. Last week, government data showed that consumer prices fell for the 23rd straight month, and price falls can lead to wage declines.