WHILE JOB GROWTH SLOWED for the month of March, with the market adding only 121,000 private-sector jobs, the unemployment rate fell to 8.2%, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
“We’ve added nearly half a million manufacturing jobs since February 2010,” says Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “We cannot rest on our laurels and expect to coast our way back to prosperity.”
The figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show little change from January to February, with 3.6 million job openings, a hires rate of 3.3% and a separations rate of 3.1%. Compared with the 4.3 million job openings when the recession began in December 2007, the current rate has increased 46% since the end of the recession in June 2009.
THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS reports an increase in the 2011 sales of investment and vacation homes, up to 1.23 million from 749,000 in 2010. Vacation homes are purchased for personal recreational use, while investment homes are purchased primarily as rental properties. RealtyTrac reported new foreclosures down in February to 206,900, a 1.92% decrease from January’s figure of 210,941.
MORTGAGE APPLICATIONS INCREASED for the week ending March 30, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, and the refinance index was up 4% from the previous week. “Applications to buy a home picked up last week, and are running more than 2% above the level reported at this time last year,” says Michael Fratantoni, MBA’s vice president of research and economics. “Home purchase applications for conventional loans are now about 10% above last year’s level.”
TOURISM SPENDING INCREASED 8.1% in 2011, says the U.S. Commerce Department, which supported an additional 103,000 industry-related jobs. More than 7.6 million people work in the U.S. tourism industry. The increase in spending was attributed to a higher-than-expected number of international visitors to the United States; 62 million visitors arrived for U.S. trips, an increase of 2.5 million from 2010.
CONSUMER CONFIDENCE HAS INCREASED SLIGHTLY, according to the Surveys of Consumers from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan, amid more favorable income and job trends, which offset rising gas prices. More households reported an improved financial picture than at any time in the past four years.
“Although consumers are not yet optimistic about future economic prospects,” says Richard Curtin, Surveys of Consumers chief economist, “pessimism has recently faded at a rapid pace. Perhaps too rapidly, as expected job and income gains may be unrealistically high for the economy to meet.”