Australia's jobless rate jumped half a percent to seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent in March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday, hitting a five-year high. That was higher than analyst expectations for a 5.5 percent increase after the 5.2 percent gain in February.

The bureau also reported that the number of employed Australians decreased by a greater-than-expected 34,700 to 10,771,800. Most economists had forecast an overall job loss of 25,000.

The number of Australians employed full time decreased by 38,900 in March to 7.62 million compared to 7.66 million in February. Part time employment increased by 4,200 jobs to 3.15 million in March.

The number of persons looking for full-time work increased by 28,500 to 460,400 and the number of persons looking for part-time work increased by 24,300 to 190,500.

The male unemployment rate increased by 0.5 percentage points to 5.7 percent, and the female unemployment rate increased by 0.4 percentage points to 5.7 percent.

The employment participation rate was 65.5 percent, unchanged from February.

Official forecasts predict that the unemployment rate will hit 7.0 percent by mid-2010.

Also on Thursday, the median rate of inflation expected by Australians increased in April to 2.4 percent from the March rate of 2.2 percent. Survey results released by the Melbourne Institute showed the median inflation expectation for April was below the 4.5 percent figure reported for the same month last year.

The percentage of those surveyed saying they expect price inflation to come within the Reserve Bank of Australia's 2 to 3 percent target range rose in April to 10.6 percent.

It marked the fifth consecutive month in which consumer inflation expectations were within the RBA target range.

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