In the latest sign that the economy is finally bouncing back, the number of workers filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level since March 2008, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Thursday. For the week ending March 10, Americans filed 351,000 initial claims for unemployment compensation, a decrease of 14,000 from the previous week's figure.
In plain English, that basically means fewer people are losing jobs these days than during the long, severe economic downturn that started in 2007. That report comes on the heels of last week's news that employers added 227,000 new jobs.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the good news on unemployment claims comes at the same time as good news on home building, which rose slightly in January, as well. Economist Joel Naroff tells The Journal that the numbers "add to the belief that the economy is shifting gears."
Middle-aged Americans trying to save for retirement got more positive news from Wall Street. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite both rose this week to levels not seen since prior to the recession, TheStreet.com reports. The S&P, an index widely considered to be one of the most reliable indicators of the health of U.S. stocks, is now up 11.5 percent for the year, and "looking fairly bulletproof," Michael Baron writes. This week's standout: Apple stock soared amid the frenzy surrounding the release of the new iPad. As Reuters explains, "Apple Continues to Defy Gravity As Stock Hits $600."
Amid the good news, there's one big dark cloud that could rain on the recovery: gasoline prices, which have risen 20 percent since mid-December. Both GOP presidential candidates and President Obama spent a lot of time trying to spin that problem this week, with Republicans saying that Obama's energy policies are to blame, and the President responding that the nation can't drill its way to lower oil prices. Here's an insightful Wall Street Journal piece by energy historian Daniel Yergin, who points out that there's little that Washington can do to affect short-term prices at the pump, which he says are the result of current geopolitical instability in Iran and elsewhere. Yergin says the supply may rebound in the course of 2012, as other sources of petroleum -- Iraq, Angola, Libya and Columbia -- put more oil on the market, and U.S. offshore production rebounds.
Rolling Stones Won't Tour Until 2013: The Rolling Stones began 50 years ago in April, but the band's anniversary tour will have to wait until next year. Rolling Stone magazine quotes singer Mick Jagger, 68 as explaining that "basically, we're just not ready." The magazine reports that sources close to the band confide that one reason for the delay is the health of rhythm guitarist Keith Richards, 68, who is still struggling to overcome a 2006 head injury that he suffered after falling out of a tree in Fiji. The band gathered in a London studio in December to play together for the first time since 2007. Former bassist Bill Wyman, who left the band in 1992, sat in for the session, leading to speculation that he'll rejoin the Stones when they eventually go on tour. Technically, the Stones can get away with calling 2013 their anniversary, since that's when drummer Charlie Watts joined the band. Here's a SecondAct.com piece, "10 Surprising Facts About Keith Richards."
Frugal Like Jagger? While we're on the subject of Mick Jagger, he also recently earned another distinction to go with his knighthood and his band spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. DollarStretcher.com recognizes him as one of the top 10 "Celebrities Who Are Known for Being Frugal." Despite Jagger's claim in the song "Live With Me" that "I've got nasty habits," profligacy isn't one of them. Writer Danny Ambrose notes that Jagger prefers to repair old computers and cars instead of junking them, and once backed out of buying a painting of Stones guitarist Ron Wood because of the price tag. Others on the frugal celebrities list include Sir Paul McCartney, who once required attendees at his former wife's birthday party to pay for their cocktails, and actress Halle Berry, who claims to get her clothes from the marked-down racks at stores rather than from Paris designers. Another honoree, Leo DiCaprio, owns just one car, a Toyota Prius.
An Anniversary You Can't Refuse: Forty years ago this week, The Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola's film version of Mario Puzo's novel about the fictional Corleone mob family, debuted in theaters. The epic story of the passing of power from Sicilian immigrant Vito Corleone (portrayed by Marlon Brando) to his American-born son Michael (Al Pacino) is widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest American films of all time. The American Film Institute ranks it No. 2 on its 2007 list of the top 100 American movies, behind only Citizen Kane and ahead of such classics as Casablanca, Gone With The Wind, Vertigo and M*A*S*H. In addition to turning Pacino into a superstar, The Godfather also profoundly influenced American popular culture, making "I'm going to make you an offer you can't refuse" into an aphorism. By daringly telling a crime story from the bad guys' viewpoint and humanizing mobsters, The Godfather helped create a fascination with the Mafia that several decades later led to The Sopranos (which was laden with subtle references to the film, including the name of the Sopranos' strip club headquarters, the Bada Bing, which was lifted from the film's dialogue). ABC News offers this analysis of what made The Godfather brilliant and influential, while Time points out "40 Things You Didn't Know About The Godfather."
The Future of Education? Here's a CBS 60 Minutes story on Salmon Khan, a former hedge fund analyst who left the financial world to start a revolutionary online academy that posts free educational videos on the internet. SecondAct did this story in 2011 on Khan's remarkable self-reinvention as an educator. He also was featured in the Best Second Acts of 2011 awards.
How Vitamin D Fights Alzheimer's: Scientists have known for a while that Vitamin D may help to slow the formation of amyloid protein plaques in the brain that are a manifestation of Alzheimer's disease. But now, a new study shows how D does that, by activating genes and cell networks that turn on the immune system, which then clears the plaque.The finding may aid researchers seeking to find new treatments for the brain-wasting disorder. Here's a Huffington Post article that lays out some of the details.
Growing Debate Over Colonoscopies: Nobody looks forward to getting a colonoscopy, for unpleasant reasons that we don't need to discuss here. Nevertheless, the consensus among medical experts long has been that the procedure is the best way to detect and prevent colon cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths. But as this San Francisco Chronicle article details, an increasing number of experts now tout less-trying screening methods as an alternative, in hopes of reaching the third of people between 50 and 75 who have never gone through any sort of screening for the deadly disease.
Don't Worry (About Iran, Politics, Gas Prices), Be Happy: Over at the Huffington Post, Amy Neumann shares 15 good news refuges on the web.
Last Word: "Now I find myself at this place called Too Young to Retire and Too Old to Hire, and there's a huge crowd here, a regular Woodstock, with more arriving all the time." -- author James S. Kunen, in the opening chapter of Diary of a Company Man: Losing a Job, Finding a Life (Here's a USA Today review of the book.)