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Employment overall lags, while trucking adds 4,400 jobs in July

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WASHINGTON — Employers pulled back on hiring in July, but the job gains were still enough to lower the U.S. unemployment rate a tick to 3.9 percent from 4 percent.

Employers added 157,000 jobs last month, a modest gain, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s below the 215,000 average for the first seven months this year, but economists said the decline will likely prove temporary.

And although hiring overall slacked off some, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that trucking gained 4,400 jobs in July compared with June.

Consumers are spending freely and businesses are stepping up their investment in buildings and equipment, accelerating growth. That’s raising demand for workers in industries ranging from manufacturing to construction to health care. The economy expanded at a 4.1 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter, the strongest showing in nearly four years.

The smaller job gain likely reflected some one-time factors, analysts said. Local governments cut 20,000 jobs, the most in more than two years. Most were in education, suggesting some of the decline reflects the start of summer school holidays.

And sporting goods, hobby and toy stores shed 32,000 jobs, by far the most on records dating back to 1990. That is the result of the Toys R Us bankruptcy, economists said.

Excluding those factors, hiring in July would have been closer to the monthly average this year.

The government also revised hiring totals for May and June to show that another 59,000 jobs were added in those months.

“This job growth is nothing to be disappointed about, particularly at this stage of the recovery,” said Martha Gimbel, director of economic research at job search website Indeed. The economy is now entering its tenth year of expansion, and hiring has actually accelerated this year compared with 2017, surprising most analysts.

Stocks rose moderately after the report was released. The Dow Jones industrial average increased 82 points in mid-day trading to 25,408.

Average hourly pay gains remained modest, increasing 2.7 percent from a year earlier, the same as the previous two months. That has puzzled Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and many economists. Typically, when unemployment has fallen below 4 percent in the past, wages have increased at a faster pace.

With rising gas prices pushing up inflation, Americans actually saw their inflation-adjusted pay decrease in the past year. Consumer prices rose 2.9 percent in June from a year earlier, more than the average wage gain.

One cloud on the horizon has been the Trump administration’s trade fights with China, the European Union, Canada and Mexico. The White House has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminum and on $34 billion of imports from China, and several companies have hit U.S. imports with retaliatory duties.

Yet the trade fights didn’t appear to impact hiring last month. Manufacturers, among the most directly affected by the import taxes, added 37,000 jobs, the most in seven months.

Manufacturers have likely benefited from oil and gas drillers nearly doubling their investment in drilling rigs and other structures this spring. That’s boosted factory output of steel pipe and other drilling equipment. The new spending follows a 60 percent jump in oil prices in the past year.

Companies say they are struggling to find workers, with job openings higher than the number of unemployed for the first time in decades.

In response, many firms appear to be giving part-time workers longer hours. The number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time work has fallen nearly 13 percent in the past year and now stands at 4.6 million. That’s the fewest in 11 years.

And the underemployment rate — which includes discouraged workers no longer searching for work, as well as involuntary part-time workers — dropped to 7.5 percent, the lowest in 17 years, from 7.8 percent.

Brian England, the owner of BA Auto, a car repair shop in Columbia, Maryland, would like to add another technician and an apprentice to his 18-member staff.

Yet auto repair work requires more technical skills than the past because of the increasing concentration of computers and electronics in newer cars. He also wants his mechanics to have teamwork skills because complex repairs can require more than one worker.

He has raised starting pay roughly 10 percent in the past two years, from $60,000 to between $65,000 and $70,000.

“The more you make an employee healthy and happy, the more that they’re going to stay with you,” England said.

Lower-skilled workers are also benefiting from companies’ demand for labor. The unemployment rate for those without a high-school diploma fell to 5.1 percent, the lowest on record.

The economy is projected to grow at about a 3 percent pace for the rest of the year, which would likely mean that growth for all of 2018 would top 3 percent for the first time since 2005.

 

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Mexican officials uncover smuggling ring using truck disguised as freight companies

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Some trucks used in the smuggling ring had air conditioning units, but didn't use them when carrying migrants. (FOTOSEARCH)

MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials said Monday they have uncovered an industrial-scale migrant smuggling ring using tractor-trailer rigs disguised as freight deliveries for major companies.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said authorities found a tractor-trailer disguised with the logo of a major grocery store chain. But instead of groceries, it was carrying about 150 migrants.

‘The (grocery) company has filed a complaint, because it was fake, it was camouflage to transport migrants,” Lopez Obrador said.

In June, Mexico detected five freight trucks carrying 925 migrants, almost all from Central America. Some of those trucks bore the logos of well-known firms, though it was not clear if those trucks were also fakes or had been used illegally by drivers without the companies’ knowledge.

Foreign Relations Secretary Marcelo Ebrard said that four or five of the freight trucks found in June belonged to the same independent trucking company, based in central Mexico.

Ebrard said the company operated trucks equipped with air conditioning units, but didn’t turn on the ventilation when carrying migrants.

That led officials to believe it was just a matter of time before migrants would die aboard the overcrowded vehicles.

“The biggest concern is that there is going to be a tragedy, that is what we don’t want,” said Lopez Obrador.

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3 Estes Express employees steal $23,000 worth of water heaters

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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Richland County Sheriff’s Department says they have arrested three employees of a delivery company, after discovering $23,000 worth of stolen inventory in one of their homes.

Officials became suspicious when some retail stores reported that not all of the products supposedly being shipped from Home Depot’s West Columbia distribution center were reaching their final destination.

An investigation by the Sheriff’s Department and officials from Home Depot and Estes Express Line led authorities to get a search warrant for the home of Cody Bessinger. That is when they found more than $23,000 worth of stolen water heaters that Bessinger and two other thieves reportedly accumulated over one years time.

Authorities arrested Bessinger, along with Joe Gunter and Chris Shumpert, who were both managerial employees for Estes Express Line.

This begs the question…”why water heaters”?

Could it be that besides working for Estes Express Line, these guys had a clandestine plumbing operation on the side?

You might even say these three men are in hot water.

 

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FMCSA seeks comments on definitions of agri, livestock commodities in HOS rules

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The FMCSA has received several requests recently from agricultural and livestock haulers seeking exemption from certain aspects of the Hours of Service rule. (©2019 FOTOSEARCH)  

WASHINGTON – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Monday said it is seeking public comment on revising agricultural commodity or livestock definitions in Hours of Service regulations.

The agency said it worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on this effort to provide clarity for the nation’s farmers and commercial drivers.

The FMCSA has received several requests recently from agricultural and livestock haulers seeking exemption from certain aspects of the HOS rule.

“The agriculture industry is vital to our nation and we look forward to receiving input that will help clarify these definitions, improve safety and offer additional flexibility to farmers and commercial drivers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

“The current regulations impose restrictions upon the agriculture industry that lack flexibility necessary for the unique realities of hauling agriculture commodities,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. “We look forward to continuing to work with Secretary Chao on revising these regulations.”

Currently, during harvesting and planting seasons as determined by each state, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, are exempt from the HOS requirements from the source of the commodities to a location within a 150-air-mile radius from the source.

The advanced rule (ANPRM) authored by FMCSA was prompted by indications that the current definition of these terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the HOS exemption applies.

“FMCSA has worked closely with the agriculture industry and USDA in crafting this advanced notice. We have heard concerns from the industry, and we are acting,” said FMCSA Administrator Raymond P. Martinez.  “We encourage all CMV stakeholders, especially those involved in transporting agricultural commodities and livestock, to provide valuable feedback on how the current definitions impact safety, compliance, and enforcement.”

FMCSA continues to work closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to eliminate confusion and align the agencies’ agricultural commodity definitions.

The American agriculture industry contributes more than $1 trillion annually to the nation’s economy.

The FMCSA said in a news release that the Trump administration has been working to strengthen the agriculture industry by streamlining regulations, bolstering farm programs, and renegotiating the outdated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the signing of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) to improve access to Canadian and Mexican markets.

Additional information on the ANPRM, including how to submit comments to the Federal Register docket, is available at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/hours-service/hours-service-drivers-definition-agricultural-commodity.

In June 2018, FMCSA announced regulatory guidance for transportation of agricultural commodities. Learn more at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/regulations/regulatory-guidance-concerning-transportation-agricultural-commodities.

 

 

 

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