Jobs Are Up, Sales Are Up — But So Are Gas Prices

March 3, 2011

Bill Chappell

Weekly jobless benefit claims fell to their lowest point since May 2008, as economists say that many employers may finally begin hiring for new jobs to meet market demand.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all programs for the week ending Feb 12 was 9,236,041, according to the Department of Labor.

From a Newscast report, here's Paul Brown:

The Labor Department says last week's new unemployment benefit applications are down by 20,000. That's the third decline in the last four weeks. And it puts the seasonally adjusted number at 368,000 — below the figure most economists think would be consistently needed to prompt a significant drop in the unemployment rate.

Many of the gains in the job market are in the service sector, according to a private trade group that tracks employment in industries from retail and financial services to health care.

The Institute for Supply Management's index of service-sector activity rose to 59.7 in February — the sixth straight monthly increase and the highest reading since 2006, according to the AP.

For the ISM index, any number above 50 means that service jobs are expanding.

And despite the fact that a gallon of gas now costs around $3.43 in America — or at least, that's the national average — retailers reported a strong February, with several chain stores beating expectations.

From Giles Snyder:

February got a boost from snowstorms in January that kept some shoppers home, and from higher consumer confidence. The Conference Board says consumers felt better about the economy in February; its index rose to its highest point in more than three years.

According to Conference Board research director Lynn Franco, "consumers are more positive about the economy and their income prospects, but feel somewhat mixed about employment conditions."

Economists are also concerned that rising gas prices might cause some consumers to rein in their spending this spring.

Since demonstrations and violence began in Libya last month, the price of gas per gallon has risen 29 cents in America. And that works out to an extra $108 million per day to buy the same amount of fuel, according to the AP. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.