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US UNEMPLOYMENT FALLS TO 7 PCT. ON 203K JOBS ADDED

Friday, 06 December 2013 07:59 Published in National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — A fourth straight month of solid hiring cut the U.S. unemployment rate in November to a five-year low of 7 percent. The gains in the job market could spur greater economic growth.

The Labor Department said Friday that employers added 203,000 jobs, nearly matching October's revised gain of 200,000. The job gains helped lower the unemployment rate from 7.3 percent in October.

The strengthening job market is likely to fuel speculation that the Federal Reserve may scale back its bond purchases when it meets later this month.

The economy has now generated an average of 204,000 jobs from August through November. That's up from 159,000 a month from April through July.

Many of the November job gains were in higher-paying industries. Manufacturers added 27,000 positions, the most since March 2012. Construction firms gained 17,000. The two industries have created a combined 113,000 jobs in the past four months.

Another month of robust hiring follows other positive economic news. The economy expanded at an annual rate of 3.6 percent in the July-September quarter, the fastest growth since early 2012, the government said Wednesday.

Still, nearly half that gain came from businesses building their stockpiles. Consumer spending grew at the slowest pace since late 2009.

Greater hiring could support healthier spending. Job growth has a dominant influence over much of the economy. If hiring continues at the current pace, a virtuous cycle starts to build. More jobs usually lead to higher wages, more spending and faster growth.

But more higher-paying jobs are also necessary. Roughly half the jobs that were added in the six months through October were in four low-wage industries: retail; hotels, restaurants and entertainment; temp jobs; and home health care workers.

The Fed has pegged its stimulus efforts to the unemployment rate. Chairman Ben Bernanke has said the Fed will ease its monthly purchases of $85 billion in bonds once hiring has improved consistently. The bond purchases have kept long-term interest rates low.

The recent economic upturn has been surprising. Many economists expected the government shutdown in October to hobble growth. Yet the economy motored along without much interruption, according to several government and industry reports.

Early reports on holiday shopping have been disappointing. The National Retail Federation said sales during the Thanksgiving weekend — probably the most important stretch for retailers — fell for the first time since the group began keeping track in 2006.

Consumers are willing to spend on big-ticket items. Autos sold in November at their best pace in seven years, according to Autodata Corp. New-home sales in October bounced back from a summer downturn.

___

AP Economics Writer Josh Boak contributed to this report.

___

Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber.

MANDELA TO BE BURIED DEC. 15

Friday, 06 December 2013 07:57 Published in National News

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's president says Nelson Mandela will be buried on Sunday, Dec. 15.

President Jacob Zuma also said Friday that a memorial service in a Johannesburg stadium will be held for the anti-apartheid leader on Tuesday, Dec. 10. Zuma said that Mandela's body will lie in state at government buildings in Pretoria from Wednesday, Dec. 11, until the burial.

He said this coming Sunday, Dec. 8, will be a national day of prayer and reflection.

Zuma thanked people from around the world who are sending condolences to Mandela's family. Mandela died Thursday night at the age of 95.

ATLANTA (AP) -- There's more evidence that U.S. births may be leveling off after years of decline.

The number of babies born last year only slipped a little, and preliminary government figures released Friday indicate that trend continued through the first six months of this year.

U.S. births rose after the late 1990s and hit an all-time high of more than 4.3 million in 2007. But then they started dropping each year, and in 2011 the number was as low as it had been in the 1990s.

The decline was widely attributed to the nation's economy. Experts believed that many women or couples who were out of work or had other money problems felt they couldn't afford to start or add to their family.

Last year, the number of babies born - a little shy of 4 million - was only a few hundred less than in 2011, which some saw as a signal that the decline may be bottoming out.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest figures show the number of births from July 2012 through last June were essentially the same as the previous 12 months, suggesting the trend is continuing.

"Perhaps it's because the economy - knock wood - has bottomed out" and improved, said Gretchen Livingston of the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C. Livingston researches birth trends.

Earlier this week, another CDC report showed a decline not only in women giving birth but in getting pregnant. In 2009, the pregnancy rate dropped to its lowest level in 12 years. Of the nearly 6.4 million estimated pregnancies, about 4.1 million resulted in births, more than 1.1 million ended in abortions and about 1 million were miscarriages. Abortions accounted for 18 percent of pregnancies, down from 24 percent in 2009, said that report's lead author, CDC statistician Sally Curtin.

The highest pregnancy rates have shifted from women in their early 20s to those in their late 20s. That parallels a shift in the average age that women first get married.

---

Online:

CDC report: HTTP://WWW.CDC.GOV/NCHS

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