Signs of the Times

663,000 Jobs Lost in March

The nation’s unemployment rate shot up to 8.5% in March as employers shed 663,000 jobs and cut workers’ hours to a record low, the Labor Department said Friday in a report showing continued rapid deterioration in the job market. A record 13.2 million Americans were out of work last month. Firms have cut 5.1 million jobs since the recession began in December 2007, with nearly two-thirds of the cuts happening in the last five months. For the first three months of 2009, 2 million jobs have been lost. The unemployment rate was up from a seasonally adjusted 8.1% in February, and at 8.5% it is the highest since November 1983. A year ago the rate was 5.1%. For the first time since 1985, less than 60% of the U.S. population was working.

Workers who held onto their jobs weren’t having it easy. Non-supervisory employees worked on average 33.2 hours a week last month, lowest since the government began measuring hours in 1964, as businesses cut employees’ hours. The so-called rate of underemployment, which includes people who working part time but who wanted to work full time, and those who dropped out of the labor force because they gave up looking for work, was 15.6% in March.

Mortgage Rates Down, Delinquencies Up

Mortgage rates slid to another record low during the week, Freddie Mac said Thursday, as concerted government steps to reduce borrowing costs take hold. The average 30-year home loan rate fell in the week ended April 2 to 4.78%, the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking them on a weekly basis in 1971. This rate is 1.10 percentage points lower than in the same week a year ago.

Delinquencies on consumer loans continued to rise at the end of the year, according to data released Thursday by the American Bankers Association. The banking group said the delinquency rate during the fourth quarter of 2008 across multiple consumer loans increased to 3.22%. It is the highest delinquency rate since the ABA began tracking the data in the 1970s. The delinquency rate was 2.90% during the third quarter.

Obama, G-20 Unite on Recovery Package

Choosing compromise over political division, leaders of the world’s most important economies pledged Thursday to offer $1.1 trillion in loans and guarantees to countries most badly damaged by the global downturn, encouraging hopes that their concerted action could nudge the world economy toward recovery. President Obama and other leaders of the world’s financial powers have rallied around a sweeping economic recovery package that will inject $1.1 trillion into the global economy in hopes of reversing the worst recession in more than half a century.

The landmark agreement reached Thursday by the Group of 20 was more than what experts expected, given differences over government spending and regulation that had divided them. It includes a crackdown on tax havens, hedge funds and executive pay. Leaders of the G-20 agreed Thursday to massively re-arm the International Monetary Fund for its fight against economic contagion, providing significant new financing and a broad mandate for action. President Obama and other world leaders meeting in London said they would triple the IMF’s war chest to $750 billion.

  • And thus does the one-world government get added impetus

The consensus agreement pleased leaders who had come here deeply divided on some points. “I think the patient is stabilized,” President Obama told 800 journalists. “This is the day the world came together,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had threatened to walk out if tough new regulations were not imposed on financial institutions, called it “redefining capitalism.”

  • We don’t need to redefine capitalism, we need to redefine morality and rid ourselves of greed, materialism and lust for power. The financial meltdown is but a symptom of the underlying disease.

New World Order Emerging from Global Economic Crisis

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Thursday that “a new world order” is emerging following the G20 summit in London focusedon tackling the global financial crisis. So announced the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to a press conference. “First of all, for the first time, we have together fixed the principles for a reform of the global banking system,” Brown said, “This is a vast program of measures which for the first time brings the shadow banking system, including hedge funds, within the network of global regulation. We have agreed on the need to set international accountancy standards, we shall set rules for the rating agencies to eliminate conflicts of interest; we have arrived at an agreement to put an end to tax havens which do not supply information upon request. This is the beginning of the end for tax havens”.

Food Stamps Increase

A record 32.2 million people — one in every 10 Americans — received food stamps at the latest count, the government said on Thursday, a reflection of the recession now in its 16th month. Food stamps, the major U.S. anti-hunger program, help poor people buy groceries. The average benefit was $112.82 per person in January.

Colleges and Grads in a Bind

After a string of golden recruiting years, employers plan to hire 22% fewer graduates this spring, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. But even that figure underestimates the drop, says Sheila Curran, an independent adviser and former head of career services at Duke.

This year it is the colleges that fear getting rejection letters. Decision letters being sent out this week reflect the worries of administrators, who fear admitted applicants may hesitate to commit in this climate of economic uncertainty. Private colleges especially are preparing for lower than normal matriculation rates by accepting more applicants, expanding wait lists and bolstering efforts to woo admitted students, says the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities.

Iowa Court: Ban on Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Unconstitutional

The Iowa Supreme Court says the state’s same-sex “marriage” ban violates the constitutional rights of homosexual couples, making it the third state where same-sex marriage is legal. The case stems from a 2005 lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal, a New York-based homosexual rights organization. The group filed a lawsuit on behalf of six homosexual Iowa couples who were denied marriage licenses. In a unanimous ruling issued Friday, the court upheld a 2007 Polk County District Court judge’s ruling that the law was unconstitutional. The Polk County attorney’s office claimed that Hanson’s ruling violated the separation of powers and the issue should be left to the Legislature.

Sweden Becomes Seventh Country to Approve Same-Sex Marriage

BBC reports that Sweden will offer marriage licenses to same-sex couples starting May 1. The new law also enables couples to marry in religious ceremonies, but gives pastors and churches the right to refrain from performing ceremonies. The Lutheran Church, which is the largest denomination in Sweden, reportedly supports the new law, though individual clergy may opt out. Parliament overwhelmingly approved the measure on April 1. “Unfortunately this is not an April Fool’s Day joke, this is reality,” Yvonne Andersson, member of the Swedish parliament for the Christian Democrats, wrote on the party’s Web site following the vote. Sweden is the fifth European country to approve same-sex marriages; Canada and South Africa have also approved them.

Atheist ‘De-baptism’ Forms Snapped Up in Britain

A secular organization in Britain that backs an atheist ad campaign on London’s buses is now producing “certificates of de-baptism” for people wishing to renounce their Christian faith — and claims it is getting thousands of takers. The National Secular Society says more than 100,000 ex-worshippers have downloaded the de-baptism certificates from its website, and that thousands of others have ordered up parchment versions at about $4 a copy.

  • The great “falling away” has begun

Afghanistan

French President Nicolas Sarkozy offered enthusiastic support for President Obama’s new strategy in Afghanistan, saying France was preparing to do more to help the allied fight there, short of sending troops. “We are prepared to do more in terms of police training … we are helping Afghanistan rebuild,” Sarkozy said. Obama added that it was more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch successful terrorist attacks in Europe than in the United States, due to Europe’s proximity to Afghanistan.

Roadside bombs cause 75% of casualties to coalition forces in Afghanistan, up from 50% two years ago, prompting urgent pleas from commanders there for more armored vehicles to protect troops. The rate of casualties from IEDs — those wounded or killed — in Afghanistan for the first two months of 2009 is higher than the rate in Iraq when fighting there was at its worst. It was 60% there in 2006 and 2007. Casualties from IEDs have dropped as more Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) have been sent to Iraq.

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