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Chile July-Sept jobless rate steady at multi-year low

SANTIAGO, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Chile's jobless rate for the July to September period remained steady at a multi-year low of 5.7 percent, as expected, the government said on Wednesday.

Increased employment in the manufacturing and real estate industries offset a decrease in the agriculture and construction sectors, the INE statistics agency reported.

Unemployment has never dipped below 5.7 percent since Chile's statistics institute changed its methodology in January-March 2010.

Finance Minister Felipe Larrain said later on Wednesday the figure is the lowest rate in at least three decades for the July-September period, calling it "excellent news."

"I think we're close to full employment," Larrain said.

While unemployment has fallen steeply, experts say high income inequality, low salaries and underemployment remain significant problems in the Andean country.

"It's hard to think the unemployment rate can fall further, perhaps there can be a marginal downward effect if seasonal factors dominate," Larrain added.

Agricultural employment typically picks up as the Southern Hemisphere's summer rolls in, but slowing economic growth in Chile will likely dampen the effect.

Chile's economy has grown robustly under outgoing president Sebastian Pinera, in part due to strong prices for top export copper, but growth is easing as a weakening global economy takes its toll on the open, export-dependent nation.

The central bank unexpectedly cut rates to 4.75 percent earlier this month to stimulate economic growth, and more reductions are eyed.

The weakened right-wing coalition's candidate is expected to fare poorly in next month's presidential election.