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Unemployment benefit filings dip, while economy struggles to recover

By Sun Advocate

Unemployment benefit filings appear to be on the decline, but Utah and the United States continue to struggle to recover from the economic recession.
Ending March 8, the four-week average of initial unemployment insurance claims filed across Utah registered at 2,030, representing a decrease of 3 percent from last year’s 2,093.
The number of all initial unemployment benefit filings during the four-month period totaled 2,008 statewide, indicated the latest Trendlines report developed by the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Weeks claimed numbered 24,437.
Non-profit charitable organizations have proliferated in Utah, but many are competing for increasingly scarce funds to address growing community needs.
At the national level, the ranks of United States workers lining up for first-time jobless benefits thinned slightly for week ending March 8. But the filings remained at levels suggesting a stagnant labor market.
Initial claims for unemployment aid fell 15,000 to 420,000, according U.S. Labor Market Data.
War worries and snowstorms kept American shoppers away from stores, driving down sales at the nation’s retailers by 1.6 percent in February, the worst showing in 15 months.
The drop in retail sales reported by the U.S. Commerce Department marked a significant pullback by consumers from January, when sales rose by a modest 0.3 percent.
Industrial production climbed slightly across the nation in February as increases in mining and utilities output offset slower factory assembly lines, pointed out the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Production gained 0.1 percent, while capacity in use by companies remained unchanged at 75.6 percent in February.
Comprising more than four-fifths of overall production nationwide, manufacturing dipped 0.1 percent for the sector’s first decline since December.
The decline reflects a slowdown in motor vehicle production, added the U.S. Federal Reserve.
U.S. business inventories grew slightly in January, in part due to a rise in the number of cars on dealer lots, pointed out the U.S. Commerce Department.
Economists indicate that the historically low levels mean businesses will likely need to increase inventories when demand increases.
Inventories at U.S. retailers, manufacturers and wholesalers rose 0.2 percent in January 2003 to $1.147 trillion after gaining 0.7 in December 2002.
The trade gap narrowed by 8.4 percent to $41.1 billion in January from December’s deficit of $44.9 billion as America’s exports posted a solid gain and imports fell, reported the U.S. Commerce Department.
The narrowing of the trade deficit came as the average price of imported crude oil jumped to $27.73 a barrel in January 2003, the highest price since November 2000.
American consumers increased borrowing in January by the largest amount in 14 months. According to data compiled by the U.S. Federal Reserve, consumer credit shot up by $13.2 billion or an annual rate of 9.1 percent compared to last year for the largest jump since November 2001.
The increase pushed total consumer debt up to $1.74 trillion.
Inflation at the wholesale level shot up one percent in February as energy prices soared by the largest amount since the buildup to the Persian Gulf War 12 years ago, explained the U.S. Labor Department.
The spurt in the producer price index followed a 1.6 percent jump in January, the sharpest one-month increase posted in 13 years.
A sharp rise in the price of oil as the United States prepared for a war against Iraq pushed American import prices up for a third consecutive month in February.
Import prices rose 1.3 percent after climbing 1.6 percent in January, added the U.S. Labor Department. The cost of petroleum imports accelerated 8.2 percent in February after jumping 13.3 percent in January.
During the last 12 months, petroleum import prices were up 75 percent.
Excluding petroleum, import prices were 0.4 percent higher in February. The rise marked an acceleration from January and represented the biggest monthly gain since April 2002.
The slumping stock market has virtually destroyed the nest eggs of millions of Americans in the last three years, erasing at least $678 billion in U.S. retirees’ savings, according to a University of Michigan study.
The portion of Americans ages 55 to 64 years old who are working or looking for employment surged three percentage points since January 2001 to 62.6 percent.
The increase in the number of older Americans seeking employment or working in the labor force is unprecedented in post-war U.S. economic history, according to federal officials.
The findings of a recently released ACNielsen study indicates consumer visits per year to supermarkets are down 12 percent since 1999, while visits to super centers are up 40 percent.
Super centers are not only attracting consumer traffic, but the stores are also getting more dollars out of the visits.
As in other retail categories, consumers looking to save money are driving the trend.
In addition, many consumers point out that visiting a grocery and general merchandise store in one stop saves time.
Twenty years ago, 85 percent of U.S. employers offered health insurance benefits. Currently, only 62 percent of the employers provide health insurance as a benefit.
As a result, an increasing middle-class Americans lack health insurance coverage.

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