Jobless Claims Level Off, Economic Indicators Show Signs Of Improvement

Jobless claims are holding steady as 351,000 new workers filed for state unemployment benefits last week. The last two weeks have seen the lowest number of claims since March 2008. Lower claims may indicate a slowly improving job market, as employers hold on to workers. Meanwhile, hiring is also showing signs of improvement.  Not only did payrolls grow by 243,000 in January, but the number of Americans experiencing long-term unemployment of 27 weeks or more fell to 5.5 million or 42.9 percent of the unemployed. That figure is down from 6.3 million workers unemployed for longer than 27 weeks in January 2011. However, another report this morning shows gas prices already up 10 percent this year.  Rising prices at the pump not only impact consumers, who will now have less money to spend on other goods and services, but they will also crimp business spending, particularly among companies that are heavy users of fuel.  Employers in agriculture, shipping, plastics manufacturing, travel, etc., could all feel the pinch and may have to hold off on increased hiring just as it appears that the economy is primed for growth.  Are hiring gains expected to continue in the spring and summer?  How might rising fuel prices impact hiring decisions in the coming months?  What are other threats to the recovery’s momentum?

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