SEOUL, The number of people covered by employment insurance showed the fastest growth rate in over seven years in March, government data found Monday.

According to the data released by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, about 13,504,000 people were covered by the state-run employment insurance as of last month, marking a rise of 4.1 percent, or 526,000, from a year ago.

The growth rate was the biggest since February 2012, when the same number increased by 533,000. The number of employment insurance-insured clients grew by between 400,000 and 500,000 per month from last September to February.

Ministry officials speculate the steady growth may be attributed to the government's policy of expanding employment insurance coverage.

In a related trend, the number of beneficiaries of unemployment benefits and the amount of unemployment benefit payments are on a steady rise, they said.

About 506,000 people were paid unemployment allowances last month, up 11 percent from a year ago, while the amount of unemployment benefit payments surged 23.1 percent on-year to 639.7 billion won (US$562 million), the largest monthly volume on record. The previous monthly record of 625.6 billion won set in January was broken in just two months.

The ministry officials explained the surge in the amount of unemployment benefit payments seems to indicate a lackluster improvement in the nation's labor market.

Both the number of recipients of unemployment benefits and the amount of unemployment benefit payments are expected to continue to grow in the future, as the government is determined to further strengthen the social safety net for the unemployed, officials and experts said.

For instance, a revision of the Employment Insurance Act, which calls for raising the unemployment allowance payment from 50 percent of a jobseeker's previous salary to 60 percent and lengthening the payment period from 90-240 days to 120-270 days passed a National Assembly committee last Thursday.

The labor ministry is also discussing including workers in special employment types and artists among the beneficiaries of unemployment allowances, the officials noted.

Source: Yonhap news Agency