(Adds background on wages, workforce)
By Silvio Cascione
BRASILIA, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Brazil's unemployment rate rose less than expected in January as a continued decline in the number of people looking for work helped offset weaker job creation.
Brazil's non-seasonally-adjusted jobless rate climbed to 4.8 percent, up from a record low of 4.3 percent in December, government statistics agency IBGE said on Thursday.
The number was below the median forecast of 5.1 percent in a poll of 27 economists. In January 2013, Brazil's jobless rate stood at 5.4 percent.
The so-called economically active population, or the number of people either employed or actively seeking work, dropped 0.8 percent from a year before in the six major metropolitan areas surveyed, its fourth straight decline.
Economists say a shrinking workforce is the reason why Brazil's jobless rate has remained around record lows even as the economy flirts with recession.
Years of steady growth in household income have allowed an increasing number of Brazilians to leave work and instead attend university and professional training courses. That is helping offset the impact a slower pace of hiring in some sectors, as shown by Labor Ministry data in recent months.
The number of Brazilians with jobs dropped 0.9 percent from December to 23.1 million. It was unchanged from January 2013.
Inflation-adjusted wages rose 3.6 percent from January 2013 to an average of 1,983.80 reais ($832) a month. That was 0.2 percent higher than in December.
The unemployment rate, as calculated by the IBGE, tallies jobs in the formal sector, where employees are legally registered, as well as off-the-books jobs in the so-called informal sector.
The number of people who failed to find a job increased 9.6 percent from December but dropped 12.6 percent from a year earlier to 1.2 million people, IBGE said. Brazilian companies usually hire temporary workers for the holiday shopping season.
IBGE plans to introduce changes to the current labor market survey in 2015, such as the use of a broader quarterly survey including data from more than 3,000 cities.
$1 = 2.3827 Brazilian reais Additional reporting by Felipe Pontes; Editing by W Simon