Almost 500 people a day lost their jobs last month as unemployment hit a 15-year high of five per cent. In the three months from June to last month, there were 175,000 people jobless and 85,000 underemployed out of a labour force of 3.3 million, according to Census and Statistics Bureau figures. It was the first time the jobless rate had touched five per cent since May 1983. It was a 0.2 percentage point increase from the rate of 4.8 per cent from May to July, which meant 14,600 people lost their jobs in the past month, a rate of 470 per day. However, the underemployment rate from June to last month eased to 2.5 per cent from 2.6 per cent from May to July. Government economist Tang Kwong-yiu blamed the unemployment rise on a burgeoning labour force and rapid staff cuts in the private sector. He said the labour force had increased mainly due to an influx of new graduates, school leavers and returnees from overseas, and an increase in the number of newly arrived residents. Secretary for Education and Manpower Joseph Wong Wing-ping urged the jobless to remain patient, saying the numerous job creation and training measures the Government had adopted needed time to work. Mr Tang said it was worth noting that the rate of increase in unemployment from June to last month had narrowed from the previous figure, but he contended that it was too early to conclude that the economic situation had turned around. 'Certainly, the sign of slowing down in the rate of increase is a sign we like to see,' Mr Tang said. 'On the other hand, we recognise the unemployment level is still higher than in the recent past. We need to watch out for the next few months to see if there's a further decrease. It's too early to draw any conclusions on the basis of one month.' He pointed to an apparent rebound in the tourism sector in July which had resulted in hotel occupancy rates rising. Economists expect lower rates in winter as the year end nears.