State of Business: Hardening the Soft Spots

One by one, the last remaining soft spots in the U.S. economy are firming. After months in the horse latitudes, retail and auto sales are scudding along at a brisk pace. Last week came two new harbingers of boom: a sharp drop in unemployment and a pickup in the long-sluggish construction market.

With dispiriting consistency, unemployment has been averaging just under 7% ever since last January. But in November the number of unemployed abruptly dropped to 6.1% of the work force. Unseasonably warm weather had reduced the usual winter layoffs in outdoor jobs....

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