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The Numbers: Unemployment, Mortgage Applications, U.S. Competitiveness

CHICAGO — DECEMBER FOUND THE U.S. UNEMPLOYMENT rate dropping to a nearly three-year low of 8.5%, with non-farm payrolls increasing by 200,000 in the month alone, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Economists had expected a 150,000 increase, and the number was the largest hike in three months. The forecasted unemployment rate was 8.7%.

SOME ECONOMISTS, HOWEVER, WARNED that the lower-than-expected number was primarily due to seasonal, holiday jobs that will likely disappear in the first part of the new year. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis says, “Month by month, industry by industry, and state by state, America’s labor market grew stronger in 2011. We’re now seeing sustained job growth across almost every industry. We created nearly 2 million private sector jobs in 2011, and the unemployment rate fell in 45 states and the District of Columbia last year.” The National Association of Realtors endorsed the principles outlined in a white paper issued by the Federal Reserve Board. The U.S. Housing Market: Current Conditions and Policy Considerations points to the need for more lending for home purchases, as well as more modifications to existing loans, more refinancing, and more short sales to lower the number of foreclosed homes on the market.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN, the Mortgage Bankers Association noted in its Weekly Mortgage Applications Survey for the last week of 2011 that mortgage applications decreased 3.7% from earlier in the month. However, the Market Composite Index, which measures total mortgage loan applications, was 39% higher in the final two weeks of the year than it had been in the same time period of 2010.

IN A REPORT TO CONGRESS, the U.S. Department of Commerce addressed a number of concerns as mandated in the America COMPETES Re-authorization Act of 2010. Looking at a variety of topics and options, the report touched on tax policy, the U.S. business climate, obstacles to new business, trade and export policies, federal research and development efforts, the manufacturing sector, science and technology education, as well as intellectual property in the United States and overseas.

THE COMPETITIVENESS AND INNOVATIVE CAPACITY of the United States lists these findings: Federal investments were critical to U.S. competitiveness in the 20th century; failure to invest in research, education and infrastructure have compromised U.S. competitiveness; and support for these areas is needed, in spite of budgetary constraints, for the country’s future and as an investment for the American taxpayer.


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