(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with finance minister's remarks, details; RECASTS lead para)
By Kim Deok-hyun
SEJONG, Jan. 15 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's jobless rate remained flat at 3.4 percent in December, but Asia's fourth-largest economy reported a stronger-than-expected job growth last month with job additions coming to 516,000, data showed Wednesday.
It was the strongest monthly job additions in five years and four months, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.
The unemployment rate for young adults -- those aged between 15 and 29 -- fell to 7.3 percent last month from 8.3 percent tallied a year earlier.
For all of 2019, the country's jobless rate was also unchanged at 3.8 percent. Some 301,000 jobs were added last year, marking the first time in two years that the number of job additions exceeded 300,000, officials said.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the nation's job market showed a "trend of significant recovery" last year.
"The government will focus on helping the recovery trend continue this year," Hong said, shortly after the statistics agency released the data.
The statistics agency said the number of unemployed people stood at 942,000 in December, compared with 944,000 a year earlier.
By industry, the health and social welfare sectors added 178,000 jobs, and the culture, sports and leisure-related service segment saw an increase of 88,000 jobs last month.
In contrast, the wholesale and retail sector suffered a decline in job offerings by losing 94,000 jobs in December. The construction sector also continued to shed jobs by losing 28,000 jobs.
The jobs data came amid hopes that South Korea's economy could regain its recovery momentum this year.
South Korea's exports fell 10.3 percent on-year in 2019 to $542.4 billion, according to government data.
For December last year, the monthly exports slipped 5.2 percent on-year to $45.7 billion to extend their slump to a whopping 13th consecutive month.
But this year's outbound shipments are forecast to rise 3 percent.
The nation's economy is expected to grow 2.4 percent this year, following last year's estimated 2 percent expansion, on the back of an anticipated recovery in the memory chip sector and a series of policy measures.
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