Blame the state of the union on the weather

Jobless claims spiked last week, and the Obama administration says it’s because of bad weather:

More Americans than forecast filed first-time claims for unemployment insurance payments last week, indicating it will take time for the labor market to mend.

Applications for jobless benefits increased by 51,000 to 454,000 in the week ended Jan. 22, Labor Department figures showed today. Economists forecast 405,000 claims, according to the median estimate in a Bloomberg News survey. The number of people on unemployment benefit rolls rose, while those collecting extended payments fell.

A Labor Department official said snow in four southern states in previous weeks created a backlog of claims that were processed last week. While the economy has improved, it hasn’t been enough to reduce an unemployment rate that Federal Reserve policy makers said yesterday is too high and requires pressing ahead with a $600 billion stimulus plan.

Oh yes, spending is sure to solve the problem. After all, it has worked so well so far… We wonder if the weather is at fault as well for last year’s dismal home sales numbers:

Buyers purchased the fewest number of new homes last year on records going back 47 years.

Sales for all of 2010 totaled 321,000, a drop of 14.4 percent from the 375,000 homes sold in 2009, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. It was the fifth consecutive year that sales have declined after hitting record highs for the five previous years when the housing market was booming.

The year ended on a stronger note. Buyers purchased new homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 329,000 units in December, a 17.5 percent increase from the November pace.

Still, economists say it could be years before sales rise to a healthy rate of 600,000 units a year.

Meanwhile things don’t look promising for businesses which depend on improvements made to existing homes, either:

Lowe’s Cos Inc is laying off about 1,700 middle managers across the United States, the country’s second-largest home-improvement chain said.

The news comes as home improvement chains focus on cutting costs to tackle tepid demand for expensive renovations in a slowly recovering. U.S. economy.

Must be that pesky weather again…

President Obama’s State of the Union address this week offered no solutions to the nation’s economic woes, unless one considers more government spending a “solution.” During his speech, the national debt increased by about $100 Million:

At the moment that President Obama began speaking last night, I recorded the tally on the National Debt Clock. It was 14 trillion, 74 billion, 755 million dollars. (The thousands speed by too quickly to register.) The moment that the president ceased speaking, I checked again: 14 trillion, 74 billion, 853 million dollars. So during the president’s speech, the national debt rose by $98 million.

Yet President Obama offered no serious proposals for reducing spending or debt. To the contrary, he talked about new spending he’d like to see. He offered only the occasional and unserious rhetorical nod to fiscal prudence: Having raised non-defense domestic discretionary spending by 24 percent on his watch, and by 84 percent when including his “stimulus,” he proposed to freeze it there — at that new, much higher, rate. That’s not exactly how you make a dent in a $14 trillion shortfall.

Even the Washington Post editorial board (under the headline “A disappointing State of the Union address”) writes:

President Obama entered office promising to be a different kind of politician — one who would speak honestly with the American people about the hard choices they face and would help make those hard calls. Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address would have been the moment to make good on that promise. He disappointed.

The Post continues, “Maybe some members of Congress will display the courage the president has lacked. Maybe Mr. Obama, in the budget he proposes next month, will grapple more realistically with the hard choices than he did Tuesday night. But even if he does, how can he expect public support if he hasn’t made the case? From the man who promised to change Washington, it seemed all too drearily familiar.”

It’s drearily familiar, indeed. If there are two consistent themes of the Obama presidency, they are these: His talk and his actions too often bear little resemblance to one another; and his enthusiasm for spending other people’s money continues unabated.

For the millions of viewers who tuned in to last year’s sotu, but missed the speech this time around, a quick recap is here.

- JP

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