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The Numbers: Economy Remains Steady Despite Static Levels of Consumer Confidence

CHICAGO — THE U.S. ECONOMIC SITUATION remains static from February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed remains at 10.5 million, and the unemployment rate stands at 6.7%. Both numbers have decreased so far this year, with the number of unemployed down by 1.6 million, and the rate down a full percentage point. However, those who have been without a job for 27 weeks or longer went up to 3.8 million in February.

“The nation’s economic recovery continued in February,” says U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, “with the creation of 175,000 new jobs. For four years uninterrupted now, private-sector unemployment has grown, to the tune of 8.7 million new jobs.”

ACCORDING TO REPORTS from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts, the economy continues to improve. Eight districts showed improved activity, but most of the districts reported modest to moderate growth. Severe weather was blamed for lower numbers in the New York and Philadelphia districts. Most districts remain optimistic, says the report from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

DEBATE CONTINUES on raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the wage boost would not only increase income for millions of Americans, it would help the current economic situation.

THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS reports gains in home sales in the South and Northeast, while numbers declined in the West and Midwest. The Pending Home Sales Index increased by 0.1% in January, but remains below the level it reached in January 2013. Weather was partly to blame, according to Lawrence Yun, chief economist. Despite the lower sales numbers, mortgage applications were up by 9.4% for the last week of February, says the Mortgage Bankers Association.

U.S. EXPORTS of goods and services increased again in January, rising to $192.5 billion, according to a statement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker. “U.S. exports are off to a solid start in 2014,” says Pritzker, “and we will build on that success in the months and years ahead.”

ECONOMIC ACTIVITY in the non-manufacturing sector grew in February for the 49th straight month, according to a report from the Institute for Supply Management. And the International Council of Shopping Centers reports a gain of 2.7% in chain-store sales for February.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE remained fairly static from January to February, reports Surveys of Consumers from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. Weather had the greatest impact on parts of the population, with the severe conditions increasing utility usage and cost. Younger consumers report greater confidence than those older than 65.

“While the harsh winter weather has kept consumers away from retail outlets,” says Surveys of Consumers Chief Economist Richard Curtin, “it has not had a detrimental impact on their outlook for future economic conditions. Consumers have displayed remarkable resilience in the face of the ‘polar vortex’ as well as higher utility bills and minimal employment gains. This reaction stands in sharp contrast to the instability in confidence associated with the government shutdowns and policy stalemates in the past few years. Without another self-inflicted DC shock in the off-year election, consumers are prepared to renew the pace of spending in the months ahead, with an overall gain of 2.6% in 2014.”


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