U.S. Economic Data Are Less Than Robust

By John S. McClenahen As the U.S. heads toward next week's "Super Tuesday" presidential primaries, government data on durable goods orders, new residential sales and initial claims for unemployment insurance show an economy now in a less-than-robust recovery from the 2001 recession and still struggling to create jobs. New orders for manufactured durable goods -- products like autos and appliances that are designed to last for three years or more -- declined 1.8% to $181 billion in January, the U.S. Commerce Department reported on Feb. 26. Last month's decrease was in contrast to December 2003's 1.6% increase and economists' expectations for a similar gain in January. Sales of new one-family homes last month were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.106 million, 1.7% below the revised December 2003 rate of 1.125 million, the Commerce Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also reported on Feb. 26. And the U.S. Labor Department reported on Feb. 26 that initial claims for unemployment insurance rose by 6,000 last week to 350,000. The department's four-week average for initial claims, considered by many economists to be a better indicator of labor market conditions, also increased last week. At 354,750, it was up 2,750 from the previous week's revised average of 352,000.

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