Finance Column » Your Money This Week » Is the economy hanging in there?

Is the economy hanging in there?

By Mark Hamrick ·
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Posted 2 pm ET

Recent economic reports haven't confirmed fears of an abrupt spring slowdown. Such worry was inflamed by the weaker-than-expected March jobs report, released April 5.

The Labor Department reports today that new claims for unemployment benefits rose just 4,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. New claims, a gauge of layoffs, haven't spiked in a way that would suggest employees are in a rush to shrink their payrolls.

Also reassuring was the Beige Book survey, released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve. It tells us that the housing market and auto sales are continuing to fuel a modest recovery.

Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight says the report showed the job market was "unchanged or improved slightly, consistent with the subdued employment report last month."

What is the Fed thinking?

Minutes released from last month's Federal Reserve meeting indicated that the central bankers are talking about tapering the Fed's monthly program of $85 billion in asset purchases. This week's Beige Book doesn't have much in it to hush that discussion.

The next Fed meeting is scheduled to begin at the end of the month when officials will have a chance to resume that discussion with new data in hand.

Still persisting, however, are the problems of the long-term unemployed. It is a problem that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke often talks about. He's concerned that the longer that people are separated from the workplace, the more they are at risk of losing important skills. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas notes that the number of Americans who have been out of work for 27 weeks or longer has dropped since peaking at 6.7 million in April 2010. That number was put at 4.6 million in March by the Labor Department. Some of the decline is because people gave up searching for work, not because of real improvement in the job market.

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