- Associated Press - Thursday, March 3, 2011

TOKYO (AP) - The number of Japanese who committed suicide declined last year, but remained above 30,000 for the 13th straight year with a sharp jump in deaths by those citing grim job prospects, a government report said Thursday.

Japan has for years had one of the world’s highest suicide rates.

In all, 31,690 people killed themselves last year, a 3.5 percent decrease from the year before. Many cited depression, economic hardships and job-related concerns, according to the annual report by the National Police Agency.

The number of people who committed suicide indicating “failure to get jobs” rose to 424, up 20 percent from the year before and more than doubling from 180 in 2007, the report said. About one-third were in their 20s, including new graduates seeking jobs.

The results underscore the tough reality for student job seekers as companies cut back on hiring amid a lengthy economic slump.

A record one-third of university students graduating this month have not found jobs, a separate government survey said in January.

Stress from searching for a job apparently led a university student last month to grab the steering wheel of a highway bus from the driver, causing it to flip over, injuring 12. The student was on his way home from a job interview, and reportedly told police that he wanted to commit suicide.

Japan has long battled a high suicide rate. At 24.4 suicides per 100,000 people, the country ranked second in 2009 among the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations after Russia’s 30.1, according to the World Health Organization.

The Japanese report didn’t calculate the 2010 suicide rate, but its statistics combined with last year’s population report indicate it would be 25 per 100,000.

Japan’s suicides have declined in recent years after reaching a record 34,427 in 2003.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has identified jobs and reviving growth as priorities for his administration.

Kan vowed further efforts, saying economic recovery is not enough to curb suicides.

“What we need is a society in which nobody feels abandoned,” he said.