A record one-third of Japanese university students graduating this spring have not found jobs, underscoring dwindling career opportunities for young people even as companies post robust profits.

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TOKYO — A record one-third of Japanese university students graduating this spring have not found jobs, underscoring dwindling career opportunities for young people even as companies post robust profits.

The latest numbers released by the government Tuesday were so bad they prompted officials to couple the report with new measures to help jobseekers.

The reluctance of companies to hire is particularly worrisome for Japan’s graduates because a person’s first job out of college is a critical step that often determines a lifelong career with a single company. If you miss that step and get stuck in lower-paying part-time or contract work, full-time employment may never materialize, leading to lower wages and a lower standard of living.

The fate of young workers is also vital for the overall economy. Among the many problems tied to a rapidly aging population like Japan’s is that older people tend to spend less. So Japan needs its younger generations to spend more to underpin private consumption, which accounts for more than half the economy.

The joint survey by the labor ministry and the education ministry showed that 68.8 percent of university students had secured employment as of Dec. 1 — the lowest level since 1996 when the government began collecting data and 4.9 percentage points worse than last year.

It’s even tougher for junior-college students. Less than half of those graduating in March have jobs, the report said. Officials surveyed 6,250 students at 62 universities and 20 junior colleges across Japan.

Thanks to strong global demand, particularly from China, exporters like Sony and Toshiba are making money again after the recession.

It hasn’t, however, translated to a similar boom in hiring.

Japan’s unemployment rate stood at 5.1 percent in November, high by the country’s historical standards.

A key central-bank survey of business sentiment last month indicated that companies of all sizes believed they still had too many workers. Companies remain cautious about looming risks including a persistently high yen and uncertainty about the global economy.

Economists say that one of the reasons behind corporate Japan’s reluctance to boost jobs is cost. Each hire is essentially a lifetime commitment for a company. There are training and education expenses, along with the fact that firing workers in Japan is difficult.

“It’s a very expensive investment decision,” said Hiromichi Shirakawa, chief Japan economist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo.

In a temporary expansion of a subsidy program first introduced last year, the government will offer companies money to hire graduating students. Companies can receive 100,000 yen ($1,200) for up to three months for each new graduate employed under a fixed-term contract. If a worker is then promoted to full-time regular status, companies will receive 500,000 yen.

The labor ministry will also organize nationwide job fairs featuring small and midsize companies that may have been overlooked by jobseekers because they don’t have the same name recognition as a Sony or Toyota.