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Toyota city's economy almost out of gas

The optimistically named "Hello Work" unemployment office in Toyota, Japan, is jam-packed with anxious faces these days as the city named after Japan's top auto maker bids goodbye to the boom times.

The queues of jobless are testament to the human costs of a global slump that's dragging Toyota Motor Corp - the mainstay employer for the city and the surrounding region - into its first annual loss in nearly 60 years.

Many job seekers aren't thinking about leaving Toyota city just yet as prospects for finding work elsewhere in a recession-struck Japan are even more dismal.

They're also pinning hopes on Toyota, the world's No. 1 auto maker, recovering to drive the city's prosperity again.

Up until now, the area's sprawling network of parts makers had been notorious for chronic labor shortages as global consumers snatched up Prius hybrids and Lexus luxury cars.

Toyota city's branch of Hello Work - government offices that provide job-referral services and help with applications for unemployment benefits nationwide - isn't used to big crowds.

No wonder its officials look harried.

"We've never seen anything like it in decades. The need for jobs has ballooned in such a short period," said Masami Kawajiri, a Hello Work manager.

People looking for jobs have nearly tripled to more than 2,600 a month from about 1,000 a month only a year before, and the numbers have grown in recent weeks.

Job openings have shriveled to about a third of last year's levels, leaving only scarce offerings in the service sector, such as restaurants and homes for the elderly.

Global economic woes are trickling down as everyday pain to the very people who had flocked to Toyota, a city with a population of about 400,000, in search of lucrative work - some from as far away as Peru and Brazil.


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