Business Highlights: Unemployment sinks, Biden’s challenge

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US unemployment sinks to 3.9% as many more people find jobs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s unemployment rate fell in December to a healthy 3.9% — a pandemic low — even as employers added a modest 199,000 jobs, evidence that they are struggling to fill jobs with many Americans still reluctant to return to the workforce. The drop in the jobless rate, from 4.2% in November, indicated that many more Americans found jobs last month. Indeed, despite the slight hiring gain reported by businesses, 651,000 more people said they were employed in December compared with November. Still, the jobs data reported Friday reflected the state of the job market in early December — before the spike in COVID-19 infections began to disrupt the economy.

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Biden’s economic challenge: Finding workers and goods

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden enters the midterm election year of 2022 determined to address what economists call a “supply” problem. There aren’t enough jobseekers or goods to meet the country’s needs. The mismatch has obscured the strong growth and 3.9% unemployment rate reported in Friday’s jobs report. That kind of performance would typically help the president and congressional Democrats woo voters in the midterms. But it has left Biden trying to showcase his economic achievements while trying to parry Republican criticism that his policies have fueled inflation. And pessimism has overtaken Americans’ views on the economy, even though it’s objectively better than it was before Biden took office.

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Companies keep mum as vaccine mandate goes to Supreme Court

NEW YORK (AP) — Companies that would be affected by a Biden administration vaccine-or-testing requirement for workers remain on the sidelines while the Supreme Court considers whether the rule can be enforced. The requirement has faced numerous court challenges and was upheld last month by a three-judge panel with the U.S. Court of Appeals. Since then, Starbucks has announced its own vaccine mandate. It said in December that all U.S. workers must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 9 or face a weekly COVID testing requirement. The arguments before the Supreme Court come as companies are grappling with labor shortages made more acute by the rapid spread of the highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19.

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CES gadget show turnout falls more than 75% thanks to COVID

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Attendance at this week’s CES gadget show in Las Vegas fell more than 75% compared to its previous in-person event two years ago, according to the event’s organizer. The Consumer Technology Association said Friday that more than 40,000 people attended the multi-day event, compared to more than 170,000 for the last in-person CES two years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic led the CTA to take 2021′s conference online, but the trade group decided eight months ago to bring the in-person convention back to Vegas. That proved challenging amid a global spike in infections caused by the fast-moving omicron coronavirus variant.

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Stocks end lower after mixed jobs data as tech sinks again

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks ended lower on Wall Street Friday and Treasury yields rose as investors anticipated the Federal Reserve will stay on course to raise interest rates as soon as March. The S&P 500 fell 0.4%, and the yield on the 10-year Treasury hit its highest level since COVID-19 began pummeling markets at the start of 2020. Another slump in tech stocks pulled the Nasdaq down 1%. If the Fed does raise rates, it could help corral the high inflation sweeping the world. But it would also mark an end to the conditions that have put financial markets in “easy mode” for many investors.

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Pandemic adds time, cost to rebuild after Colo. wildfire

LOUISVILLE, Colorado (AP) — In Colorado and other states hit by natural disasters this year, the pandemic has injected extra uncertainty and created more obstacles for families trying to rebuild. Shortages of workers and raw materials are making rebuilding slower and more expensive. In areas where real estate prices have risen sharply, families are learning that their insurance may not cover the cost to rebuild their homes exactly as they were. And in a tight housing market, there are few homes for sale or rent, making it hard for families to find temporary shelter.

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Treasury broadens COVID relief uses for states, localities

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s administration is giving state and local governments greater flexibility in spending $350 billion in federal COVID-19 aid. The new rules from the U.S. Treasury Department come nearly 10 months after Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act. Some cities and counties had said the initial rules were too rigid. The rules released this week relax requirements for governments to prove revenue losses in order to spend the money more freely. Among other things, they allow spending on more types of construction projects and broaden eligibility for high-speed internet projects.

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Rex Rust, co-president of Rust Communications, dies

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (AP) — Rex Dearmont Rust, co-president of the Missouri-based media company Rust Communications, has died. The company’s flagship newspaper, the Southeast Missourian in Cape Girardeau, reported that Rust died Thursday evening after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 52. Rust grew up in Cape Girardeau and graduated from Harvard University in 1992. He worked in finance before returning to Missouri. In 2001, Rust and his brother, Jon K. Rust, were named co-presidents of the company founded by their father, Gary Rust, who continued on as chairman of the board. Today, Rust Communications owns more than 40 newspapers in eight states, numerous magazines and websites, and has minority ownership of 17 radio stations.

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The S&P 500 fell 19.02 points, or 0.4%, to 4,677.03. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 4.81 points, or less than 0.1%, to 36,231.66. The Nasdaq dropped 144.96 points, or 1%, to 14,935.90. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies tumbled 26.56 points, or 1.2%, to 2,179.81.