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Business/Economy

  • Unemployment numbers paint bleak economic picture

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell only slightly last week to a seasonally adjusted 382,000. The level suggests hiring remains weak.

    The Labor Department said Thursday that applications declined by 3,000 from the previous week, which was revised up. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose for the fifth straight week to 377,750, the highest level in nearly three months.

    Applications were skewed higher two weeks ago by the fallout from Hurricane Isaac. But a Labor Department spokesman said there were no special factors last week.

    Weekly applications are a proxy for layoffs. When they consistently fall below 375,000, it typically suggests hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

    Employers added only 96,000 jobs last month, below the 141,000 in July and much lower than the average 226,000 added in the first three months of the year. Recent job gains are barely enough to keep up with the growth of the working age population and aren't enough to rapidly drive down unemployment.

  • Tax penalty to hit nearly 6M uninsured people

    WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 6 million Americans — significantly more than first estimated— will face a tax penalty under President Barack Obama's health overhaul for not getting insurance, congressional analysts said Wednesday. Most would be in the middle class.

    The new estimate amounts to an inconvenient fact for the administration, a reminder of what critics see as broken promises.

    The numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office are 50 percent higher than a previous projection by the same office in 2010, shortly after the law passed. The earlier estimate found 4 million people would be affected in 2016, when the penalty is fully in effect.

  • Southwest needs power lines to become solar hub

    ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Pick any stretch of road slicing through the American Southwest. The sun beats down on the asphalt like nowhere else and heat waves distort the landscape.

    It's here, in these open expanses, that experts say is a massive untapped source of energy that could meet the nation's growing needs. But only if developers can get it out of the desert.

    Even as renewable power projects get a boost from the federal government, a lack of transmission lines prevent states such as New Mexico — where the sun shines more than 300 days a year — from converting the obvious potential into real watts that can charge smartphones and run air conditioners thousands of miles away.

    Aside from Phoenix, the nation's sixth largest city, and Las Vegas, which glows around the clock, the region's rural stretches — the ideal places for acres of solar panels — have few energy demands. And sending solar power from there to population centers isn't as simple as loading coal into boxcars and shipping it cross country.

  • United Way Sets Ambitious Goal

    Each year, the United Way of Northern New Mexico just kept getting closer and closer. Last year, its Community Action Fund was able to fund 24 of its 31 grant requests. This year, the UWNNM is going all out and is going to try and fund the full 31.

    “Twenty four were funded and 31 people asked,” UWNNM Executive Director Kristy Ortega said to the large crowd of business people and potential donors packed into the lobby of the Los Alamos National Bank last Wednesday night. “This year, we’d like to fund them all; and in the future, we’d like to fund them all, too.”

    This year, she said, that’s going to take $1.6 million.

    “This is what our community is asking for and I encourage you all to help us get there,” she said to the crowd after unveiling the goal on a big blue board for everyone to see.

    To help meet the goal of funding every grant, the UWNNM’s strategy will be to encourage donors to give to the general fund instead of designating it to a specific cause.

  • Egan-Jones cuts US debt rating to AA- from AA

    NEW YORK (AP) — Egan-Jones, an independent credit-research firm, downgraded its rating on U.S. government debt to AA- from AA on Friday, citing the Federal Reserve's plans to try to stimulate the economy.

    The credit rating agency said the Fed's plans to buy mortgage bonds will likely hurt the economy more than help it.

    The plan will weaken the value of the dollar and push up prices for oil and other commodities, Egan-Jones said. That would leave less for consumers to spend on other things.

    But at the same time, Egan-Jones warned that the federal government's borrowing costs are likely to slowly rise as the global economy recovers.

    On Thursday, the Fed said it would buy $40 billion of mortgage bonds a month to help the economic recovery.

    It's the second time the Haverford, Pa. shop has downgraded U.S. government debt in five months. In April, Egan-Jones lowered its rating on the U.S. to AA from AA+. It stripped the U.S. of a top AAA rating in July 2011.

  • Economists Ponder Success of Latest Fed Move

    No sooner did the Federal Reserve unveil a bold plan to juice the U.S. economy than it dangled the prospect of doing even more. Investors celebrated by sending stock prices jumping. Economists were less impressed.

  • Fed to spend $40B a month on bond purchases

    WASHINGON (AP) — The Federal Reserve unleashed a series of aggressive actions Thursday intended to stimulate the still-weak economy by making it cheaper for consumers and businesses to borrow and spend.

    The Fed said will spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage-backed securities for as long as it deems necessary. It plans to keep short-term interest at record lows through mid-2015 — six months longer than it previously had planned. And it's ready to take other unconventional steps if job growth doesn't pick up.

    A statement from the Fed's policy committee said it thinks "a highly accommodative stance of monetary policy will remain appropriate for a considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens."

    The committee announced the series of bold steps after a two-day meeting. Its actions pointed to how sluggish the economy remains more than three years after the Great Recession ended.

    Stock prices rose on the news. But some economists said they thought the benefit to the economy would be slight.

  • US poverty rate unchanged; record numbers persist

    WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's poverty rate remained stuck at a record level last year, while household income dropped and the number of people who don't have health insurance declined.

    A Census Bureau report released Wednesday provided a mixed picture of the economic well-being of U.S. households for 2011 as the nation enters the final phase of a presidential election campaign in which the economy is the No. 1 issue.

    The overall poverty rate stood at 15 percent, statistically unchanged from the 15.1 percent rate in the previous year. Experts had expected a rise in the poverty rate for the fourth straight year, but unemployment benefits and modest job gains helped stave that off, the bureau reported. For last year, the official poverty line was an annual income of $23,021 for a family of four.

    While unemployment eased slightly from 2010 to 2011, the gap between rich and poor increased. The median, or midpoint, household income was $50,054, 1.5 percent lower than 2010 and a second straight annual decline.

  • Council short on options--Updated

    When the Los Alamos County Council meets in special session Sept. 24, it will be almost three years to the day that councilors split the sheets with the last developer who tried to make a go of the Trinity Site.

    Now, 36 months later, it’s déjà vu all over again for the county council.

    North American Development Group has sized up its potential to make financial sense of the proposed development and determined it’s time to bail.

    Unlike its predecessor, the Boyer Company, which spent about four years in a fruitless effort to move the development forward, NADG is moving to assign its lease agreement to the development division of Kroger, the parent company of Smith’s.

  • Jobless rate falls as more people give up looking for work

    WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added 96,000 jobs last month, a weak figure that could slow any momentum President Barack Obama hoped to gain from his speech to the Democratic National Convention.

    The unemployment rate fell to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent in July, the Labor Department said Friday. But that was only because more people gave up looking for work. The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching.

    The government also said 41,000 fewer jobs were created in July and June than first estimated. The economy has added just 139,000 jobs a month since the beginning of the year, below 2011's average of 153,000.

    Dow Jones industrial futures, which had been up before the report, fell soon after it was released.