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The Numbers: Consumers Contribute to Strong Holiday Shopping Season

CHICAGO — WHILE THE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE dipped to 6.7%, only 74,000 new jobs were added in December. Many economists caution that the lower rate may not be all that favorable, since many people have given up looking for work, and the latest rate would not include those 374,000 people.

“The U.S. economy closed out 2013 by adding 74,000 jobs, bringing the 2013 total to nearly 2.2 million new jobs,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez. “With 87,000 new private-sector jobs in December, that makes 8.2 million jobs created by the private sector over the last 46 straight months.”

Still, far too many Americans are struggling to find jobs and secure a foothold in the middle class, Perez adds.

“Long-term unemployment in particular remains a persistent challenge, stuck at a staggering high: 3.9 million Americans, representing 37.7% of all unemployed workers, have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks.”

ON THE HOUSING FRONT, RealtyTrac reports that 9.3 million properties were underwater in December, 19% of all mortgaged properties in the country. The number is gained when comparing the loan amount is at least 25% higher than the property’s market value. The number is lower than in September, when 10.7 million properties were underwater (23% of all mortgages), and the December number is the lowest since 2011.

THE NON-MANUFACTURING SECTORS report from the Institute for Supply Management shows that economic growth continued in December. “The NMI registered 53% in December, 0.9 percentage point lower than November’s reading of 53.9%,” says Anthony Nieves, chair of the institute’s Non-Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. It was the 48th month of consecutive growth noted by the purchasing and supply executives.

THE INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF SHOPPING CENTERS also reported positive numbers for the November/December holiday shopping season. Despite extreme weather conditions and a shorter holiday season, sales increased 3%, says the ICSC. The December figure was 3.4% higher than a year ago, and was stronger than November’s 2.1% increase.

EXPORTS OF GOODS AND SERVICES increased by $1.7 billion in November, the U.S. Commerce Department reports, for a new monthly high of $194 billion – up from $193.1 billion in October. Exports for January through November of 2013 totaled $2.1 trillion, another record-setting year.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE WAS UP for households with incomes under $75,000, according to the Surveys of Consumers from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. The end of the government shutdown eased concerns somewhat, but it did not increase consumer confidence in the nation’s economic policies.

“Consumers were clearly relieved when the D.C. gridlock ended,” says Surveys of Consumers Chief Economist Richard Curtin. “Confidence has bounced back to nearly the same levels it was before the crisis in mid-2013. Simply ending the shutdown or passing a new budget to keep the government open, however welcome, is not seen by consumers as a proactive step toward better economic policy. … Consumers are not ready to celebrate, aside from those who have benefitted from rising stock-market wealth.”


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