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The Numbers: Unemployment Rate Slightly Lower in February; Consumer Sales Up

CHICAGO — THE BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS reported that unemployment rates in February were lower than those of the previous year. In 338 of the 372 metro areas, the numbers were lower; 25 areas reported higher unemployment; and nine areas were static. The unemployment rate for the entire country was 7% in February, compared to 8.1% one year earlier.

For the week ending April 5, unemployment insurance claims stood at 300,000, down 32,000 from the previous week, according to the latest report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

AN ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE REPORT indicates that long-term unemployment remains up, without regard to education level. The number of unemployed for more than six months has reached 3.7 million, three times as many as such workers reported in 2007. The Institute’s report shows that the high numbers of long-term unemployed is not due to people having less education or fewer job skills; the cause is due to employers reluctant to hire more people since the demand for goods and services has not increased.

IN A STUDY from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., researchers found that community banks (those with assets between $100 million and $10 billion) continue to be resilient even through the trend of consolidation in the banking industry. The numbers of such banks have increased, as have their assets, since 1985.

“The FDIC study clearly demonstrates the strength and resilience of the community bank sector and supports the conclusion that community banks will continue to play a vital role in the financial system of the United States for the foreseeable future,” says FDIC Chairman Martin J. Gruenberg. The study was published in the latest edition of FDIC Quarterly.

CONSUMER SALES WERE UP 3.6% in March, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). The numbers were higher than those in February, when sales were hampered by hazardous weather conditions.

“A number of retailers commented that the shift in Easter (April 20, 2014, vs. March 31, 2013) had a negative impact on March sales,” says Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist, vice president and director of research. ICSC research predicts an increase of 3.5% to 4% in April.

MORTGAGE LOAN APPLICATIONS WERE DOWN 1.6% in the first week of April, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The group’s Refinance Index was also down from the previous week by 5%, the lowest it has been since the end of 2013.

New foreclosures in February decreased 112,498, or 10%, from last year, according to RealtyTrac. The number of homes underwater also decreased, by 14% from December 2012.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE WAS UNCHANGED during the first three months of the year, despite extreme weather conditions (lower-than-usual temperatures and continuing drought) across the country, as reported in the latest Surveys of Consumers from Thomson Reuters and the University of Michigan. Consumers reported their finances were as strong in March 2014 as they had been in December 2013, and they also see favorable financial prospects for the rest of the year.

“Consumers have finally begun to expect sustained gains in their personal finances, especially among younger households,” says Richard Curtin, chief economist for Surveys of Consumers. “Consumers are ready to celebrate a delayed spring with renewed spending.”


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