Friday PM July 2nd, 2010

Unemployment rate drops, as those who have given up looking is factored in…Rains from Hurricane Alex beneficial to Texas crops…Continental reports record load factors for June…


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President Barack Obama says the economy is headed in the right direction, but not fast enough to satisfy him or many Americans. The president spoke as a new report showed that the unemployment rate dropped to 9.5 percent in June, the lowest level in almost a year. But that lower overall jobless rate merely reflected that many people gave up looking for work, as employers cut 125,000 jobs last month. The loss was driven by the end of 225,000 temporary census jobs. Businesses added 83,000 workers to their payrolls, an improvement from May. The People who are no longer looking for work aren’t counted as unemployed. Congressman Kevin Brady talked about the unemployment figures at a Joint Economic Committee hearing.

“And while the unemployment rate fell to 9.5 percent, it fell for the wrong reasons. A precipitous drop of 652,000 workers in the labor force–or more importantly, out of the labor force—the number of discouraged and other marginally-attached workers that have stopped actively seeking jobs rose to 2.6 million—an all-time series high. And 6.8 million American workers have remained unemployed for six months or longer.”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas says Washington needs to replicate the low-tax, pro-growth policies that have worked in Texas.

BP and the Obama administration face mounting complaints about cleaning up what may now be the biggest spill ever in the Gulf of Mexico. Critics say they are ignoring foreign offers of equipment and making little use of the fishing boats and volunteers available to help clean up. The Coast Guard said there have been 107 offers of help from 44 nations. But many of those offers are weeks old. Many fishing boats hired for the cleanup have done a lot of waiting around. The frustration extends to the volunteers who have offered to clean beaches and wetlands. More than 20,000 volunteers have signed up to help in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. Yet fewer than one in six has received an assignment or the training required to take part in some chores.

BP says it’s handing out cards to all 40,000 of its cleanup workers telling them they can talk to the media–but only if they want to. The message on the small cards? “Feel free to talk.” The oil giant, stung by footage of coastal work crews dodging cameras and refusing to talk to reporters, started telling workers it was ok to talk with reporters. The company said it also delivered a warning to contractors working on the project: cooperate with news crews or risk being fired. Keith Seilhan, BP’s incident commander for the mobile area, says contractors are being told they can’t restrict anyone’s access to the media. He says “if they do, we’re going to let them go.”

The rains from Hurricane Alex may benefit Texas crops on the brink of harvest, according to Dr. Ruben Saldana with Texas AgriLife Extension. Since Alex hit Mexico about 100 miles south of Brownsville, there were minimal crop losses in the Rio Grande Valley. The region has corn, cotton and sorghum, and Dr. Saldana says as things dry out, growers will harvest their crops. For many crops–including cotton, sugarcane, citrus, sunflowers, sesame and soybeans–Alex turned out to be a welcome irrigation event, according to the Hildalgo County AgriLife extension. But dry weather in the next few weeks is critical, according to Saldana.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the country is “giving short-shrift to immigration” and that economic problems will worsen until America sends out a more welcoming message. Bloomberg tells ABC’s Good Morning America the U.S. is “pushing people that other countries want away from our shores.” He says an overly restrictive immigration policy discourages people who can create work with an entrepreneurial spirit. Speaking a day after President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass an immigration reform bill, Bloomberg said policymakers “should give a green card to anybody around the world who wants to come here.” He also said a way must be found to give citizenship to the roughly 11 million people who are in the United States illegally.

Hospital emergency rooms may grow even more crowded with longer wait times under the nation’s new health law–which provides insurance coverage for 32 million more people. It would seem these patients would now be able to get routine health care by visiting a doctor’s office, but it’s not that simple. There’s a shortage of front-line family physicians in some places and experts think that will get worse. Also, the study finds that people without insurance aren’t the ones filling up emergency rooms. The biggest users of ERs by far are Medicaid recipients. And the new law will increase their ranks by about 16 million. Rand researcher Dr. Arthur Kellermann predicts newly covered patients will be less afraid to go to the emergency department if they’re sick or hurt and their resources for treatment are limited. As he puts it, “we just don’t have other places in the system for these folks to go.”

Two pipeline companies are defending themselves after a federal official said the lines weren’t marked before two deadly explosions last month in Texas. Two workers were killed after a bulldozer hit a pipeline June 8th near Darrouzett in the Panhandle. One drill operator died in the June 7th blast near Cleburne in North Texas. Dcp Midstream, the panhandle pipeline’s owner, says it can’t find evidence that the construction company followed notification procedures before the project started. But Nick Thomas, the construction company owner, says the line was marked and it was an existing excavation site. Enterprise Products, which owns the pipeline near Cleburne, says an employee tried to mark the line but couldn’t find the project site.

The government is opening investigations into possible power steering problems in Mazda 3 passenger cars and BMW Z4 sports cars. The investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve more than 290,000 Mazda 3s from the 2007-2009 model years and nearly 50,000 Z4s from the 2003-2005 model years. NHTSA say it has received 33 complaints of steering problems in the Mazda 3s and reports of three crashes tied to the problem. The government has received 107 complaints in the BMWs and one crash has been reported. The complaints involve the loss of power steering, making it difficult to maintain control. Government investigations sometimes lead to recalls.

Continental Airlines reports a June load factor of 86.9 percent—2.1 points above June of last year. That’s a record for the month. The Houston-based air carrier recorded a Department of Transportation on-time arrival rate of 80.8 percent. For June 201, passenger revenue per available seat mile is estimated to have increased between 21 and 22 percent compared to June 2009.

The number of rigs actively exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. increased by five this week to 1,557. Houston-based Baker Hughes says that 960 rigs were exploring for natural gas and 587 for oil. Ten were listed as miscellaneous. A year ago this week, the rig count stood at 928. Texas gained nine. The rig count tally peaked at 4,530 in 1981, during the height of the oil boom. The industry posted a record low of 488 in 1999,

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