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Fewer auto closings reduce U.S. unemployment claims

Associated Press
July 12, 2012
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The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits plunged last week. But a big reason was that some automakers skipped their traditional summer shutdowns to keep up with demand, leading to fewer temporary layoffs of autoworkers.

Sales of new cars and trucks surged in June, extending the auto industry's rebound. Automakers also began their Independence Day promotions early, lifting sales at the end of the month.

Weekly applications for unemployment aid dropped 26,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's the lowest level since March 2008. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell to 376,500.

Economists expect most of the decline to be reversed in the coming weeks.

"Take July with a grain of salt," Jill Brown, an economist at Credit Suisse, said in a note to clients. The auto shutdowns "often cause extreme volatility."

Automakers traditionally close their plants for the first two weeks in July to prepare them to build new models and their employees file for unemployment benefits. But Ford Motor Co. said in May that it would reduce its usual two-week closing to only one week. And Chrysler said May 3 that it would skip the shutdown entirely.

Applications for unemployment benefits measure the pace of layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it generally suggests hiring is strong enough to reduce the unemployment rate. They have fluctuated at or above that level since April.

At the same time, hiring has slowed sharply compared with the first three months of the year. Employers added only 80,000 jobs in June, the third straight month of weak hiring. The unemployment rate was stuck at 8.2 percent.

Job gains have averaged only 75,000 per month for in the April-June quarter. That's roughly a third of the 226,000 average monthly gains in the first quarter.

Employers advertised more job openings in May after a sharp drop in April, according to a government report released Tuesday. That suggests the job market is stabilizing.

Still, more jobs are needed to lower painfully high unemployment and boost pay for those who are working. Wages have barely kept up with inflation over the past year, which has led consumers to pull back on spending.

Consumer spending is critical because it drives roughly 70 percent of growth. But the economy isn't growing quickly enough to encourage more hiring. The economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.9 percent in the first three months of the year.

Most economists don't expect growth picked up in the April-June quarter. And some predict that it weakened.

The Federal Reserve downgraded its outlook for the economy this year. It now expects growth of just 1.9 percent to 2.4 percent for 2012. That's half a percentage point lower than the range it estimated in April. The Fed also says the unemployment rate won't fall much further this year than it has already.

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  1. How much you wanna bet, that 70% of the jobs created there (after construction) are minimum wage? And Harvey is correct, the vast majority of residents in this project will drive to their jobs, and to think otherwise, is like Harvey says, a pipe dream. Someone working at a restaurant or retail store will not be able to afford living there. What ever happened to people who wanted to build buildings, paying for it themselves? Not a fan of these tax deals.

  2. Uh, no GeorgeP. The project is supposed to bring on 1,000 jobs and those people along with the people that will be living in the new residential will be driving to their jobs. The walkable stuff is a pipe dream. Besides, walkable is defined as having all daily necessities within 1/2 mile. That's not the case here. Never will be.

  3. Brad is on to something there. The merger of the Formula E and IndyCar Series would give IndyCar access to International markets and Formula E access the Indianapolis 500, not to mention some other events in the USA. Maybe after 2016 but before the new Dallara is rolled out for 2018. This give IndyCar two more seasons to run the DW12 and Formula E to get charged up, pun intended. Then shock the racing world, pun intended, but making the 101st Indianapolis 500 a stellar, groundbreaking event: The first all-electric Indy 500, and use that platform to promote the future of the sport.

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  5. The Indy Star announced today the appointment of a new Beverage Reporter! So instead of insightful reports on Indy pro sports and Indiana college teams, you now get to read stories about the 432nd new brewery open or some obscure Hoosier winery winning a county fair blue ribbon. Yep, that's the coverage we Star readers crave. Not.

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