U.S. weekly unemployment claims rise; imported inflation weak

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, which could add to concerns that the labor market was losing steam after job growth slowed sharply in May.

Other data on Thursday showed import prices fell by the most in five months in May amid a broad decline in the cost of goods, the latest indication of muted inflation pressures. Signs of a slowing labor market and tepid inflation strengthen the case for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates this year.

U.S. central bank policymakers are scheduled to meet on June 18-19 against the backdrop of rising trade tensions. Financial markets have priced in at least two rate cuts by the end of 2019. A rate cut is not expected next Wednesday.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 3,000 to a seasonally adjusted 222,000 for the week ended June 8, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims decreasing to 216,000 in the latest week.

While layoffs remain relatively low, the third straight weekly increase in claims suggests some softening in labor market conditions. The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,500 to 217,750 last week.

The economy created only 75,000 jobs in May, with annual wages increasing at their slowest pace in eight months, the government reported last week. U.S. financial markets were little moved by the claims data.

The slowdown in hiring, which occurred before a recent escalation in trade tensions between the United States and China, raised fears of a sharp deceleration in economic growth. The claims data is being closely monitored for signs of any fallout from the trade war.

President Donald Trump in early May imposed additional tariffs of up to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods, prompting retaliation by Beijing. Trump on Monday threatened more duties on Chinese imports if no deal was reached when he meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at a G20 summit later this month in Japan.

A tariff on all goods from Mexico to force authorities in that country to stop immigrants from Central America from crossing the border into the United States was narrowly averted after the two nations struck an agreement late on Friday.

ECONOMY SLOWING

Data so far have suggested a sharp slowdown in U.S. economic growth in the second quarter after a temporary boost from exports and an accumulation of inventory early in the year. In addition to the sharp moderation in hiring last month, manufacturing production, exports and home sales dropped in April, while consumer spending cooled.

The Atlanta Fed is forecasting gross domestic product increasing at a 1.4% annualized rate in the April-June quarter. The economy grew at a 3.1% pace in the first quarter.

In another report on Thursday, the Labor Department said import prices dropped 0.3% last month, the biggest decline since last December, after edging up 0.1% in April.

Economists had forecast import prices slipping 0.2% in May. In the 12 months through May, import prices fell 1.5% after decreasing 0.3% in April. The report came on the heels of data on Wednesday showing consumer prices remained tame in May.

Import prices exclude duties. In May, prices for imported fuels and lubricants declined 1.0% after rising 1.7% percent in the prior month. Imported food prices dropped 0.8% last month after surging 2.7% in April.

Excluding fuels and food, import prices slipped 0.2% in May after falling 0.3% in the prior month. So-called core import prices decreased 1.5% in the 12 months through May. Though the dollar has weakened a bit this year, its gains last year against the currencies of the United States’ main trading partners continue to depress core import prices.

The cost of imported capital goods declined 0.1% last month. Prices for imported consumer goods excluding automobiles was unchanged. The cost of goods imported from China edged down 0.1% last month after falling 0.2% in April. Prices fell 1.4% in the 12 months through May, the largest drop since February 2017.

The report also showed export prices fell 0.2% in May, with prices for both agricultural and nonagricultural products dropping. Export prices nudged up 0.1% in April. They fell 0.7% on a year-on-year basis in May after gaining 0.2% in April. Soybean prices tumbled 20.6% year-on-year.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Fed policymakers promise response if U.S. economy slows

FILE PHOTO: Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell poses for photos with Fed Governor Lael Brainard (L) at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Saphir

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Signs that the economy is losing momentum hung over a Federal Reserve summit for a second straight day as policymakers hinted they would be ready to cut interest rates if the U.S. trade war threatens a decade-long expansion.

Investors added to bets that the Fed would have to lower borrowing costs multiple times by year-end on Wednesday after a report by a payrolls processor showed private employers added 27,000 jobs in May, well below economists’ expectations and the smallest monthly gain in more than nine years.

The U.S. economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest on record. Strong job gains have been a key feature. But rising trade tensions between the United States and China have led to tit-for-tat tariffs, put a chill on U.S. businesses’ spending and exacerbated a manufacturing slowdown.

Current and threatened U.S.-China tariffs could slash global economic output by 0.5% in 2020, the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday as world finance leaders prepare to meet in Japan this weekend.

“We’ll be prepared to adjust policy to sustain the expansion,” Fed Governor Lael Brainard said in an interview with Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the Fed’s Chicago summit. “The U.S. economy, generally, is in the midst of a very lengthy expansion, the U.S. consumer remains confident, but trade policy is definitely a downside risk.”

Brainard’s remarks follow a pledge on Tuesday by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell to react “as appropriate” to trade-war fallout. Other Fed officials struck a similarly cautious tone.

Since the Fed’s last rate-setting meeting, Trump slapped new 25% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports and threatened new import taxes on Mexican goods unless immigration slows. Until recently officials had been largely signaling that they would keep rates at their 2.25-2.50% target range.

The trade war added urgency to what was intended to be a strategy session at the Chicago Fed focused on how the central bank can shore up its policies. Officials worry that economies risk getting stuck in a self-fulfilling cycle of low rates and low inflation that will make it harder to rebound from recessions and require increasingly forceful intervention.

To combat those risks, Fed officials are considering whether they want to temporarily welcome inflation a bit above their 2%-a-year target – and keep rates lower for longer – in the hopes that such a strategy will make attaining the central bank’s goals for maximum employment and price stability more likely.

Policymakers are also revisiting exactly what maximum employment means and whether they are doing a good enough job in how they speak to the public. No changes are expected until next year.

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Writing and additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Exclusive: Amazon rolls out machines that pack orders and replace jobs

FILE PHOTO: A 6-axis robotic arm picks up sorting containers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., April 30, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

By Jeffrey Dastin

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Amazon.com Inc is rolling out machines to automate a job held by thousands of its workers: boxing up customer orders.

The company started adding technology to a handful of warehouses in recent years, which scans goods coming down a conveyor belt and envelopes them seconds later in boxes custom-built for each item, two people who worked on the project told Reuters.

Amazon has considered installing two machines at dozens more warehouses, removing at least 24 roles at each one, these people said. These facilities typically employ more than 2,000 people.

That would amount to more than 1,300 cuts across 55 U.S. fulfillment centers for standard-sized inventory. Amazon would expect to recover the costs in under two years, at $1 million per machine plus operational expenses, they said.

The plan, previously unreported, shows how Amazon is pushing to reduce labor and boost profits as automation of the most common warehouse task – picking up an item – is still beyond its reach. The changes are not finalized because vetting technology before a major deployment can take a long time.

Amazon is famous for its drive to automate as many parts of its business as possible, whether pricing goods or transporting items in its warehouses. But the company is in a precarious position as it considers replacing jobs that have won it subsidies and public goodwill.

“We are piloting this new technology with the goal of increasing safety, speeding up delivery times and adding efficiency across our network,” an Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement. “We expect the efficiency savings will be re-invested in new services for customers, where new jobs will continue to be created.”

Amazon last month downplayed its automation efforts to press visiting its Baltimore fulfillment center, saying a fully robotic future was far off. Its employee base has grown to become one of the largest in the United States, as the company opened new warehouses and raised wages to attract staff in a tight labor market.

A key to its goal of a leaner workforce is attrition, one of the sources said. Rather than lay off workers, the person said, the world’s largest online retailer will one day refrain from refilling packing roles. Those have high turnover because boxing multiple orders per minute over 10 hours is taxing work. At the same time, employees that stay with the company can be trained to take up more technical roles.

The new machines, known as the CartonWrap from Italian firm CMC Srl, pack much faster than humans. They crank out 600 to 700 boxes per hour, or four to five times the rate of a human packer, the sources said. The machines require one person to load customer orders, another to stock cardboard and glue and a technician to fix jams on occasion.

CMC declined to comment.

Though Amazon has announced it intends to speed up shipping across its Prime loyalty program, this latest round of automation is not focused on speed. “It’s truly about efficiency and savings,” one of the people said.

Including other machines known as the “SmartPac,” which the company rolled out recently to mail items in patented envelopes, Amazon’s technology suite will be able to automate a majority of its human packers. Five rows of workers at a facility can turn into two, supplemented by two CMC machines and one SmartPac, the person said.

The company describes this as an effort to “re-purpose” workers, the person said.

It could not be learned where roles might disappear first and what incentives, if any, are tied to those specific jobs.

But the hiring deals that Amazon has with governments are often generous. For the 1,500 jobs Amazon announced last year in Alabama, for instance, the state promised the company $48.7 million over 10 years, its department of commerce said.

PICKING CHALLENGE

Amazon is not alone in testing CMC’s packing technology. JD.com Inc and Shutterfly Inc have used the machines as well, the companies said, as has Walmart Inc, according to a person familiar with its pilot.

Walmart started 3.5 years ago and has since installed the machines in several U.S. locations, the person said. The company declined to comment.

Interest in boxing technology sheds light on how the e-commerce behemoths are approaching one of the major problems in the logistics industry today: finding a robotic hand that can grasp diverse items without breaking them.

Amazon employs countless workers at each fulfillment center who do variations of this same task. Some stow inventory, while others pick customer orders and still others grab those orders, placing them in the right size box and taping them up.

Many venture-backed companies and university researchers are racing to automate this work. While advances in artificial intelligence are improving machines’ accuracy, there is still no guarantee that robotic hands can prevent a marmalade jar from slipping and breaking, or switch seamlessly from picking up an eraser to grabbing a vacuum cleaner.

Amazon has tested different vendors’ technology that it may one day use for picking, including from Soft Robotics, a Boston-area startup that drew inspiration from octopus tentacles to make grippers more versatile, one person familiar with Amazon’s experimentation said. Soft Robotics declined to comment on its work with Amazon but said it has handled a wide and ever-changing variety of products for multiple large retailers.

Believing that grasping technology is not ready for prime time, Amazon is automating around that problem when packing customer orders. Humans still place items on a conveyor, but machines then build boxes around them and take care of the sealing and labeling. This saves money not just by reducing labor but by reducing wasted packing materials as well.

These machines are not without flaws. CMC can only produce so many per year. They need a technician on site who can fix problems as they arise, a requirement Amazon would rather do without, the two sources said. The super-hot glue closing the boxes can pile up and halt a machine.

Still other types of automation, like the robotic grocery assembly system of Ocado Group PLC, are the focus of much industry interest.

But the boxing machines are already proving helpful to Amazon. The company has installed them in busy warehouses that are driving distance from Seattle, Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam, Manchester and elsewhere, the people said.

The machines have the potential to automate far more than 24 jobs per facility, one of the sources said. The company is also setting up nearly two dozen more U.S. fulfillment centers for small and non-specialty inventory, according to logistics consultancy MWPVL International, which could be ripe for the machines.

This is just a harbinger of automation to come.

“A ‘lights out’ warehouse is ultimately the goal,” one of the people said.

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; additional reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington and Josh Horwitz in Shanghai; editing by Greg Mitchell and Edward Tobin)

U.S. job openings surge, point to tightening labor market

FILE PHOTO: Job seekers line up at TechFair in Los Angeles, California, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Monica Almeida

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. job openings rebounded sharply in March, while the pace of hiring was little changed, pointing to a growing worker shortage that could slow employment growth this year.

Despite the tightening labor market conditions, the report from the Labor Department on Tuesday also showed workers still reluctant to voluntarily quit their jobs in droves to seek opportunities elsewhere. The scarcity of workers poses a risk to the economy’s growth prospects. The economy will mark 10 years of expansion in July, the longest in history.

“The risks right now for the economic outlook going forward is there is actually a danger that companies will run out of the help they need to produce goods or sell their services,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

“The U.S. economy has never faced a time when labor shortages might endanger or cut short a long economic expansion, but now it does.”

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, surged by 346,000 to a seasonally adjusted 7.5 million, the Labor Department’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS, showed. The job openings rate rose to 4.7 percent from 4.5 percent in February.

Vacancies in the construction industry increased by 73,000 in March. There were 87,000 job openings in the transportation, warehousing and utilities sector, while real estate, rental and leasing companies had 57,000 unfilled position. Job openings in the federal government, however, decreased by 15,000 in March.

HIRING LAGGING

Hiring was little changed at 5.7 million in March. The hiring rate was steady at 3.8 percent. The lag in hiring suggests employers are experiencing difficulties finding qualified workers, a trend that implies a slowdown in job growth later this year.

There is growing anecdotal evidence of worker shortages, especially in the transportation, manufacturing and construction industries. The economy created 263,000 jobs in April, with the unemployment rate dropping two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.6 percent, the government reported last Friday.

Economists expect job growth to slow to about 150,000 per month this year, still well above the roughly 100,000 needed to keep pace with growth in the working age population.

In March, there were 0.83 job seekers for every job opening. Job openings exceeded the number of unemployed by 1.3 million. Vacancies have outpaced the unemployed for 13 straight months.

The number of workers voluntarily quitting their jobs was little changed at 3.4 million in March, keeping the quits rate at 2.3 percent for a 10th straight month.

The quits rate is viewed by policymakers and economists as a measure of job market confidence. The Federal Reserve last week kept interest rates unchanged and signaled little desire to adjust monetary policy anytime soon.

“You have to hand it to the business community. Despite being on the wrong side of the tight labor market, firms are managing to keep from a major bidding war for workers and are still not losing workers to competitors,” said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Layoffs slipped in March, lowering the layoffs rate to 1.1 percent from 1.2 percent in the prior month. Layoffs fell in the government sector, but rose slightly in manufacturing and construction. The increase in manufacturing layoffs likely reflected redundancies in the automobile sector, which is experiencing slowing sales and an inventory overhang.

“Layoffs and discharges are extremely low, by historical standards, which reflects that employers need their workers and are prepared to make an effort to retain them,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter.

(Reporting By Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. firms hire 275,000 workers in April, most nine months: ADP

People attend the Executive Branch Job Fair hosted by the Conservative Partnership Institute at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, U.S., June 15, 2018. REUTERS/Toya Sarno Jordan

(Reuters) – U.S. private employers added 275,000 jobs in April, well above economists’ expectations and the most since last July, supporting the view of a solid domestic labor market, a report by a payrolls processor showed on Wednesday.

April’s robust figure might be overstating the strength of the jobs sector due to technical factors, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics which jointly developed the employment report with ADP.

Job growth last month was likely in the 175,000 to 200,000 range, which is the current consensus range among economists, Zandi said on a conference call with reporters.

Economists surveyed by Reuters had forecast the ADP National Employment Report would show a gain of 180,000 jobs, with estimates ranging from 141,000 to 225,000.

Private payroll gains in the month earlier were revised up to 151,000 from an originally reported 129,000 increase.

While the overall labor market is “fine,” it is slowing, Zandi said.

The ADP figures come ahead of the U.S. Labor Department’s more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report at 8:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) on Friday, which includes both public and private-sector employment.

Economists polled by Reuters are looking for U.S. private payroll employment to have grown by 180,000 jobs in April, down from 182,000 the month before. Total non-farm employment is expected to have changed by 185,000.

The unemployment rate is forecast to stay steady at the 3.8 percent recorded a month earlier.

GRAPHIC: ADP vs. the U.S. Labor Department payrolls data – http://tmsnrt.rs/2eRF4KM

(Reporting by Richard Leong and Dan Burns; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Finding the bright side in a graying U.S. workforce

By Mark Miller

CHICAGO (Reuters) – (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

U.S. Economists call it the “old-age dependency ratio” – a rough measure of the balance between people who work and retirees.

The ratio compares the number of people over age 65 – classified as old – with those aged 15 to 64 – and it is not headed in a healthy direction: by 2040, there will be 2.7 working-age Americans for each retiree, down from 4.8 in 2010.

That number from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta points toward a shortfall of workers available to support an aging population, and it is cited often to justify doom-and-gloom warnings about economic growth, federal spending and the health of our social insurance programs.

But do not tell that to Chris Farrell. The senior economics contributor to “Marketplace,” American Public Media’s nationally syndicated public radio business and economic program is bullish on aging. Farrell is the author of a new book, “Purpose and a Paycheck: Finding Meaning, Money, and Happiness in the Second Half of Life,” that seeks to upend a range of myths about old age and dependency, replacing them with a new vision of contribution to society and purpose-driven living.

He argues the case with convincing economic analysis and on-the-ground reporting – interviewing dozens of older workers finding their way forward in the labor market, and profiling companies on the leading edge of change.

For starters, he notes that the dependency ratio itself is deeply flawed because it assumes everyone over age 64 has left the workforce – and increasingly, that is not the case. Participation in the labor force by older workers has been rising steadily in recent years. Farrell cites U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures showing that from 1995 to 2016, the share of men ages 65 to 69 in the labor force rose from 28 percent to 38 percent; for women, the figure jumped from 18 percent to 30 percent.

“I’m convinced there is a large segment of people out there who think we all just go from age 60 to 90 in one year, Farrell told me in an interview. And when you look at all the research coming out of Wall Street and many economists, their perspective is not that much different.”

RESHAPING THE ECONOMY

Farrell sees the aging of the U.S. population not as a problem, but a major opportunity to create a more inclusive society and vibrant economy. He argues that a more engaged older population will shape everyday life – everything from housing markets to public transportation, urban design and healthcare.

“We have this image of the way life unfolds – you go to school, work and raise children and then retire somewhere else,” he said. “Plenty of our institutions have reflected that. But as people work longer and stay in urban areas longer, the impact will be profound – just for one example, older people tend to want public transportation – and so do younger people.”

Farrell’s analysis of the labor market for older workers is especially provocative. The Great Recession ushered in a decade of high U.S. unemployment rates for millions who found themselves shut out of the job market by age discrimination. And age discrimination is alive and well.

For example, a recent analysis of data from the University of Michigan Health and Retirement Study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute found that 56 percent of older workers are laid off at least once or leave jobs under such financially damaging circumstances that it’s likely they were pushed out rather than choosing to go voluntarily. The report also found that just one in 10 of these workers earn as much as they did before their job losses.

Farrell acknowledges that discrimination remains a tough problem, but he argues we are at an inflection point where employers will be forced to accommodate older workers due to the overall tight labor market. “It’s not that employers have suddenly become enlightened, but they will have to look at older workers with a different eye and think about hiring differently,” he said. “Do they want to fulfill their missions and grow their businesses, or not?”

Farrell tells the stories of dozens of experienced workers and later-life entrepreneurs who are forging new paths in their sixties, seventies and beyond. He also digs up plenty of examples of companies that are rethinking their approaches to accommodating older workers.

A small Minnesota precision machine company facing a thin pipeline of skilled machinists has invested in new equipment to reduce the physical strain on older workers so they can stick around longer. A healthcare company in Virginia changed the way it calculates pension benefits to avoid penalizing workers who cut back to part-time hours close to retirement.

“I really believe we’ve crossed the Rubicon on this problem,” he said. “Older workers just will be looked at differently – we’ve crossed a line and can’t go back.”

(Reporting and writing by Mark Miller in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Venezuela children left behind as parents flee to find work abroad

Iris Olivo holds her grandson Andrew Miranda's hand at the slum of La Vega in Caracas, Venezuela November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

By Shaylim Castro

CARACAS (Reuters) – Yusneiker and Anthonella have been living with their grandmother since their father left Venezuela and its collapsing economy last year for Peru, to try and earn enough to feed them. Two years earlier, their mother fled for the Dominican Republic for the same reason.

Yusneiker, 12, and Anthonella, 8, are eating better thanks to hard currency remittances from their parents, according to their grandmother Aura Orozco, who is grateful for the dollars that offer a reprieve from Venezuela’s annual inflation of nearly 2 million percent.

Still, she said, they miss their parents.

When they fall sick, they clamor for their mother. Though Yusneiker has adapted, Anthonella’s grades have slipped. The dark-eyed, curly-haired girl has clammed up and often answers her grandmother by simply nodding or shaking her head.

“To this day, she will lay down and if you ask her ‘what is wrong?’ she will say ‘I miss my mommy,'” said Orozco, 48, in her home in the hillside Caracas slum of Cota 905.

Some 3 million Venezuelans have migrated in three years, putting a growing strain on the country’s children as more parents are forced into the heart-wrenching decision to leave.

There is no official data on the phenomenon from the government of President Nicolas Maduro, which disputes the idea that there is an exodus, saying international aid agencies are inflating figures to give the administration a black eye. Despite this official skepticism, Maduro has touted a program to help migrants return.

Childhood hunger, decrepit schools and shortages of medicine and vaccinations already were problems amid the collapse of an economy once renowned for abundant oil wealth. With more parents migrating, experts interviewed by Reuters said growing problems facing Venezuelan children now include slumping school performance and malnutrition of newborns separated from would-be nursing mothers.

“These are lose-lose decisions for the parents – do I lose more by not being able to cover basic needs in the country, or by sacrificing the relationship with my child?” said Abel Saraiba, a psychologist with Caracas-based child advocacy group Cecodap.

Venezuelan migration, for years a middle-class phenomenon that involved air travel, is now dominated by working-class citizens who take long bus rides or walk along dangerous paths that are unsuitable for children.

Many also know they face challenging economic circumstances and want to be free to work all-day shifts to send more money home.

Cecodap said problems associated with children left behind by emigrating parents comprised its third most common request for help in 2018, up from fifth place in 2017.

Catholic organization Faith and Happiness, which runs schools in poor neighborhoods, said at least 5 percent of students had seen their parents emigrate as of the start of 2019.

MATERIAL BENEFITS

Children often gain material benefits from their parents’ migration, because sending hard currency to relatives provides greater access to food and medicine and even the occasional gift. Yusneiker’s grandmother was recently able to surprise him with a new pair of sneakers.

Parents say this is little consolation for breaking up a family.

“Even though my kids are older, it still hurts. I miss them so much,” said Omaira Martinez, who left her 17-year-old and 21-year-old children with their grandmother when she moved to Chile six months ago, where she now works washing dishes. “The first few months were hard. I cried a lot.”

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura's phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Anthonella Peralta looks at photos sent by her mother Yusmarlys Orozco, who lives in Dominican Republic, on grandmother Aura’s phone, in their home in the slum Cota 905 in Caracas, Venezuela December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Venezuela’s Information Ministry, which handles media inquiries for the government, did not respond to a request for comment.

Maduro has warned migrants that they face xenophobia and exploitation in other countries, and has launched a repatriation effort called “Return to the Homeland” that he says has helped some 12,000 unhappy migrants return home.

Often parents are unable to return quickly despite having promised to do so.

When Angymar Jimenez, 27, left for Ecuador to work as a manicurist, she planned to be back in several months. Two years later, her two children Andrew, 5, and Ailin, 10, are still in the care of their grandmother, Iris Olivo.

“(Ailin) at first would say that her mom was coming to get her, she would say goodbye to her friends because she thought she was leaving,” said Olivo. “Eventually she realized that wasn’t happening.”

In extreme cases, migration of a nursing mother can lead to illness and malnutrition.

One-year-old Leanny Santander in the western Falcon state has been suffering from diarrhea and vomiting since her mother moved to Colombia in search of work and stopped breastfeeding her, said her grandmother, Nelida Santander.

Santander said doctors told her Leanny’s health problems, which now include bronchitis, resulted from the early end of breast-feeding.

“I prefer for my granddaughter to be here with me – if her mother took her over there it would be worse,” said Santander, 50. “Here she is sick, but at least I can attend to her.”

The decision to migrate is often made quickly, which means parents are likely to leave children with relatives without giving them custody, putting children in a legal limbo.

A 2018 survey on migration issues by pollster Datanalisis found that about half the households surveyed had not legally placed children in a guardian’s care. That complicates signing up for school, where the presence of both parents is legally required.

The situation puts further pressure on kids to grow up early, sometimes to comfort their own anguished parents.

“I speak to her every day,” said Yusneiker of his mother in the Dominican Republic. “I tell her I miss her, that she should not worry, and that I know she has not abandoned me.”

(Additional reporting by Mircely Guanipa in Punto Fijo; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and David Gregorio)

President Donald Trump’s Accomplishments; The List is Growing

U.S. President Donald Trump closes his eyes in prayer along with Pastor Andrew Brunson, after his release from two years of Turkish detention, in the Oval Office of the White House, Washington, U.S., October 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Theiler

By Kami Klein

On January 20th, 2019 it was two years since President Donald Trump took the oath to lead our country and began the task of making America great again.  It has been an arduous task under constant scrutiny, challenging world policies as well as many profound events in our country. Despite these daunting obstacles the inventory of accomplishments from the White House grows even longer.

Below is a list compiled by the Washington Examiner and compared with information offered through the White House, on the accomplishments and promises kept by the President.  This list was released in October of 2018, showing 20 months of actions and leadership of this Presidency. Despite his opponents, President Trump continues to make new policies as well as fight for the campaign promises he made when he decided to run for the highest office in our country.  

While we do try to keep up with the ever-broadening list of accomplishments it can be a daunting task. One of our most direct research sites is within the White House itself.  Media today has the tendency to take small bites out of statements and remove the entirety of the comments made which can be very misleading.  If you are interested in hearing the press briefings, remarks by the president and news covered by White House press you can follow this link to get the entire briefing. 

For incredible articles written by directors of the many departments in our United States Government please follow this link.  These are well written, informative articles authored by people like Vice President Pence and  Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin as well as staff White House reporters.

For a list of very informative Presidential actions, you can follow this link.  Here you will find nominations, directives and proclamations as well as executive orders signed by and created by the President.

To be influential Americans we must be informed Americans. As the true drivers of policy in this country, we must begin to create our own opinions of leadership and the issues without the commentary of those competing with each other in mainstream media.        

With change come difficult moments and we understand as Americans that it is in those times that we can take action with prayer and encouragement.  We ask that you keep our President, Lawmakers, Senators, World Leaders, as well as community leaders in your prayers. May God’s blessings be upon this Nation!  

Economic Growth
4.2 percent growth in the second quarter of 2018.
For the first time in more than a decade, growth is projected to exceed 3 percent over the calendar year.

Jobs
4 million new jobs have been created since the election, and more than 3.5 million since Trump took office.
More Americans are employed now than ever before in our history.
Jobless claims at lowest level in nearly five decades.
The economy has achieved the longest positive job-growth streak on record.
Job openings are at an all-time high and outnumber job seekers for the first time on record.
Unemployment claims at 50 year low
African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American unemployment rates have all recently reached record lows.
African-American unemployment hit a record low of 5.9 percent in May 2018.
Hispanic unemployment at 4.5 percent.
Asian-American unemployment at a record low of 2 percent.
Women’s unemployment recently at the lowest rate in nearly 65 years.
Female unemployment dropped to 3.6 percent in May 2018, the lowest since October 1953.
Youth unemployment recently reached its lowest level in more than 50 years.
July 2018’s youth unemployment rate of 9.2 percent was the lowest since July 1966.
Veterans’ unemployment recently hit its lowest level in nearly two decades.
July 2018’s veterans’ unemployment rate of 3.0 percent matched the lowest rate since May 2001.
Unemployment rate for Americans without a high school diploma recently reached a record low.
Rate for disabled Americans recently hit a record low.
Blue-collar jobs recently grew at the fastest rate in more than three decades.
Poll found that 85 percent of blue-collar workers believe their lives are headed “in the right direction.”
68 percent reported receiving a pay increase in the past year.
Last year, job satisfaction among American workers hit its highest level since 2005.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans rate now as a good time to find a quality job.
Optimism about the availability of good jobs has grown by 25 percent.
Added more than 400,000 manufacturing jobs since the election.
Manufacturing employment is growing at its fastest pace in more than two decades.
100,000 new jobs supporting the production & transport of oil & natural gas.

American Income
Median household income rose to $61,372 in 2017, a post-recession high.
Wages up in August by their fastest rate since June 2009.
Paychecks rose by 3.3 percent between 2016 and 2017, the most in a decade.
Council of Economic Advisers found that real wage compensation has grown by 1.4 percent over the past year.
Some 3.9 million Americans off food stamps since the election.
Median income for Hispanic-Americans rose by 3.7 percent and surpassed $50,000 for the first time ever in history.
Home-ownership among Hispanics is at the highest rate in nearly a decade.
Poverty rates for African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans have reached their lowest levels ever recorded.

American Optimism
Small business optimism has hit historic highs.
NFIB’s small business optimism index broke a 35-year-old record in August.
SurveyMonkey/CNBC’s small business confidence survey for Q3 of 2018 matched its all-time high.
Manufacturers are more confident than ever.
95 percent of U.S. manufacturers are optimistic about the future, the highest ever.
Consumer confidence is at an 18-year high.
12 percent of Americans rate the economy as the most significant problem facing our country, the lowest level on record.
Confidence in the economy is near a two-decade high, with 51 percent rating the economy as good or excellent.

American Business
Investment is flooding back into the United States due to the tax cuts.
Over $450 billion dollars has already poured back into the U.S., including more than $300 billion in the first quarter of 2018.
Retail sales have surged. Commerce Department figures from August show that retail sales increased 0.5 percent in July 2018, an increase of 6.4 percent from July 2017.
ISM’s index of manufacturing scored its highest reading in 14 years.
Worker productivity is the highest it has been in more than three years.
Steel and aluminum producers are re-opening.
Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, and NASDAQ have all notched record highs.
Dow hit record highs 70 times in 2017 alone, the most ever recorded in one year.

Deregulation
Achieved massive deregulation at a rapid pace, completing 22 deregulatory actions to every one regulatory action during his first year in office.
Signed legislation to roll back costly and harmful provisions of Dodd-Frank, providing relief to credit unions, and community and regional banks.
Federal agencies achieved more than $8 billion in lifetime net regulatory cost savings.
Rolled back Obama’s burdensome Waters of the U.S. rule.
Used the Congressional Review Act to repeal regulations more times than in history.

Tax Cuts
Biggest tax cuts and reforms in American history by signing the Tax Cuts and Jobs act into law
Provided more than $5.5 trillion in gross tax cuts, nearly 60 percent of which will go to families.
Increased the exemption for the death tax to help save Family Farms & Small Business.
Nearly doubled the standard deduction for individuals and families.
Enabled vast majority of American families will be able to file their taxes on a single page by claiming the standard deduction.
Doubled the child tax credit to help lessen the financial burden of raising a family.
Lowered America’s corporate tax rate from the highest in the developed world to allow American businesses to compete and win.
Small businesses can now deduct 20 percent of their business income.
Cut dozens of special interest tax breaks and closed loopholes for the wealthy.
9 in 10 American workers are expected to see an increase in their paychecks thanks to the tax cuts, according to the Treasury Department.
More than 6 million American workers have received wage increases, bonuses, and increased benefits thanks to tax cuts.
Over 100 utility companies have lowered electric, gas, or water rates thanks to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
Ernst & Young found 89 percent of companies planned to increase worker compensation thanks to the Trump tax cuts.
Established opportunity zones to spur investment in left behind communities.

Worker Development
Established a National Council for the American Worker to develop a national strategy for training and retraining America’s workers for high-demand industries.
Employers have signed Trump’s “Pledge to America’s Workers,” committing to train or retrain more than 4.2 million workers and students.
Signed the first Perkins CTE reauthorization since 2006, authorizing more than $1 billion for states each year to fund vocational and career education programs.
Executive order expanding apprenticeship opportunities for students and workers.

Domestic Infrastructure
Proposed infrastructure plan would utilize $200 billion in Federal funds to spur at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment across the country.
Executive order expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects.
Federal agencies have signed the One Federal Decision Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) streamlining the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects.
Rural prosperity task force and signed an executive order to help expand broadband access in rural areas.

Health Care
Signed an executive order to help minimize the financial burden felt by American households Signed legislation to improve the National Suicide Hotline.
Signed the most comprehensive childhood cancer legislation ever into law, which will advance childhood cancer research and improve treatments.
Signed Right-to-Try legislation, expanding health care options for terminally ill patients.
Enacted changes to the Medicare 340B program, saving seniors an estimated $320 million on drugs in 2018 alone.
FDA set a new record for generic drug approvals in 2017, saving consumers nearly $9 billion.
Released a blueprint to drive down drug prices for American patients, leading multiple major drug companies to announce they will freeze or reverse price increases.
Expanded short-term, limited-duration health plans.
Let more employers to form Association Health Plans, enabling more small businesses to join together and affordably provide health insurance to their employees.
Cut Obamacare’s burdensome individual mandate penalty.
Signed legislation repealing Obamacare’s Independent Payment Advisory Board, also known as the “death panels.”
USDA invested more than $1 billion in rural health care in 2017, improving access to health care for 2.5 million people in rural communities across 41 states
Proposed Title X rule to help ensure taxpayers do not fund the abortion industry in violation of the law.
Reinstated and expanded the Mexico City Policy to keep foreign aid from supporting the global abortion industry.
HHS formed a new division over protecting the rights of conscience and religious freedom.
Overturned Obama administration’s midnight regulation prohibiting states from defunding certain abortion facilities.
Signed executive order to help ensure that religious organizations are not forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs by complying with Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate or shutting their doors.

Combating Opioids
Chaired meeting the 73rd General Session of the United Nations discussing the worldwide drug problem with international leaders.
Initiative to Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand, introducing new measures to keep dangerous drugs out of our communities.
$6 billion in new funding to fight the opioid epidemic.
DEA conducted a surge in April 2018 that arrested 28 medical professions and revoked 147 registrations for prescribing too many opioids.
Brought the “Prescribed to Death” memorial to President’s Park near the White House, helping raise awareness about the human toll of the opioid crisis.
Helped reduce high-dose opioid prescriptions by 16 percent in 2017.
Opioid Summit on the administration-wide efforts to combat the opioid crisis.
Launched a national public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid addiction.
Created a Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis which recommended a number of pathways to tackle the opioid crisis.
Led two National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days in 2017 and 2018, collecting a record number of expired and unneeded prescription drugs each time.
$485 million targeted grants in FY 2017 to help areas hit hardest by the opioid crisis.
Signed INTERDICT Act, strengthening efforts to detect and intercept synthetic opioids before they reach our communities.
DOJ secured its first-ever indictments against Chinese fentanyl manufacturers.
Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team, aimed at disrupting online illicit opioid sales.
Declared the opioid crisis a Nationwide Public Health Emergency in October 2017.

Law and Order
More U.S. Circuit Court judges confirmed in the first year in office than ever.
Confirmed more than two dozen U. S. Circuit Court judges.
Followed through on the promise to nominate judges to the Supreme Court who will adhere to the Constitution
Nominated and confirmed Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.
Signed an executive order directing the Attorney General to develop a strategy to more effectively prosecute people who commit crimes against law enforcement officers.
Launched an evaluation of grant programs to make sure they prioritize the protection and safety of law enforcement officers.
Established a task force to reduce crime and restore public safety in communities across Signed an executive order to focus more federal resources on dismantling transnational criminal organizations such as drug cartels.
Signed an executive order to focus more federal resources on dismantling transnational criminal organizations such as drug cartels.
Violent crime decreased in 2017 according to FBI statistics.
$137 million in grants through the COPS Hiring Program to preserve jobs, increase community policing capacities, and support crime prevention efforts.
Enhanced and updated the Project Safe Neighborhoods to help reduce violent crime.
Signed legislation making it easier to target websites that enable sex trafficking and strengthened penalties for people who promote or facilitate prostitution.
Created an interagency task force working around the clock to prosecute traffickers, protect victims, and prevent human trafficking.
Conducted Operation Cross Country XI to combat human trafficking, rescuing 84 children and arresting 120 human traffickers.
Encouraged federal prosecutors to use the death penalty when possible in the fight against the trafficking of deadly drugs.
New rule effectively banning bump stock sales in the United States.

Border Security and Immigration
Secured $1.6 billion for border wall construction in the March 2018 omnibus bill.
Construction of a 14-mile section of border wall began near San Diego.
Worked to protect American communities from the threat posed by the vile MS-13 gang.
ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division arrested 796 MS-13 members and associates in FY 2017, an 83 percent increase from the prior year.
Justice worked with partners in Central America to secure criminal charges against more than 4,000 MS-13 members.
Border Patrol agents arrested 228 illegal aliens affiliated with MS-13 in FY 2017.
Fighting to stop the scourge of illegal drugs at our border.
ICE HSI seized more than 980,000 pounds of narcotics in FY 2017, including 2,370 pounds of fentanyl and 6,967 pounds of heroin.
ICE HSI dedicated nearly 630,000 investigative hours towards halting the illegal import of fentanyl.
ICE HSI made 11,691 narcotics-related arrests in FY 2017.
Stop Opioid Abuse and Reduce Drug Supply and Demand introduced new measures to keep dangerous drugs out the United States.
Signed the INTERDICT Act into law, enhancing efforts to detect and intercept synthetic opioids.
DOJ secured its first-ever indictments against Chinese fentanyl manufacturers.
DOJ launched their Joint Criminal Opioid Darknet Enforcement (J-CODE) team, aimed at disrupting online illicit opioid sales.
Released an immigration framework that includes the resources required to secure our borders and close legal loopholes, and repeatedly called on Congress to fix our broken immigration laws.
Authorized the deployment of the National Guard to help secure the border.
Enhanced vetting of individuals entering the U.S. from countries that don’t meet security standards, helping to ensure individuals who pose a threat to our country are identified before they enter.
These procedures were upheld in a June 2018 Supreme Court hearing.
ICE removed over 226,000 illegal aliens from the United States in 2017.
ICE rescued or identified over 500 human trafficking victims and over 900 child exploitation victims in 2017 alone.
In 2017, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) arrested more than 127,000 aliens with criminal convictions or charges, responsible for
Over 76,000 with dangerous drug offenses.
More than 48,000 with assault offenses.
More than 11,000 with weapons offenses.
More than 5,000 with sexual assault offenses.
More than 2,000 with kidnapping offenses.
Over 1,800 with homicide offenses.
Created the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement (VOICE) Office in order to support the victims and families affected by illegal alien crime.
More than doubled the number of counties participating in the 287(g) program, which allows jails to detain criminal aliens until they are transferred to ICE custody.

Trade
Negotiating and renegotiating better trade deals, achieving free, fair, and reciprocal trade for the United States.
Agreed to work with the European Union towards zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, and zero subsidies.
Deal with the European Union to increase U.S. energy exports to Europe.
Litigated multiple WTO disputes targeting unfair trade practices and upholding our right to enact fair trade laws.
Finalized a revised trade agreement with South Korea, which includes provisions to increase American automobile exports.
Negotiated a historic U.S.-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement to replace NAFTA.
Agreement to begin trade negotiations for a U.S.-Japan trade agreement.
Secured $250 billion in new trade and investment deals in China and $12 billion in Vietnam.
Established a Trade and Investment Working Group with the United Kingdom, laying the groundwork for post-Brexit trade.
Enacted steel and aluminum tariffs to protect our vital steel and aluminum producers and strengthen our national security.
Conducted 82 anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations in 2017 alone.
Confronting China’s unfair trade practices after years of Washington looking the other way.
25 percent tariff on $50 billion of goods imported from China and later imposed an additional 10% tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods.
Conducted an investigation into Chinese forced technology transfers, unfair licensing practices, and intellectual property theft.
Imposed safeguard tariffs to protect domestic washing machines and solar products manufacturers hurt by China’s trade policies
Withdrew from the job-killing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Secured access to new markets for America’s farmers.
Recent deal with Mexico included new improvements enabling food and agriculture to trade more fairly.
Recent agreement with the E.U. will reduce barriers and increase trade of American soybeans to Europe.
Won a WTO dispute regarding Indonesia’s unfair restriction of U.S. agricultural exports.
Defended American Tuna fisherman and packagers before the WTO
Opened up Argentina to American pork exports for the first time in a quarter-century
American beef exports have returned to China for the first time in more than a decade
OK’d up to $12 billion in aid for farmers affected by unfair trade retaliation.

Energy
Presidential Memorandum to clear roadblocks to construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Presidential Memorandum declaring that the Dakota Access Pipeline serves the national interest and initiating the process to complete construction.
Opened up the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration.
Coal exports up over 60 percent in 2017.
Rolled back the “stream protection rule” to prevent it from harming America’s coal industry.
Cancelled Obama’s anti-coal Clean Power Plan and proposed the Affordable Clean Energy Rule as a replacement.
Withdrew from the job-killing Paris climate agreement, which would have cost the U.S. nearly $3 trillion and led to 6.5 million fewer industrial sector jobs by 2040.
U.S. oil production has achieved its highest level in American history
United States is now the largest crude oil producer in the world.
U.S. has become a net natural gas exporter for the first time in six decades.
Action to expedite the identification and extraction of critical minerals that are vital to the nation’s security and economic prosperity.
Took action to reform National Ambient Air Quality Standards, benefitting American manufacturers.
Rescinded Obama’s hydraulic fracturing rule, which was expected to cost the industry $32 million per year.
Proposed expansion of offshore drilling as part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy
Held a lease sale for offshore oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico in August 2018.
Got EU to increase its imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from the United States.
Issued permits for the New Burgos Pipeline that will cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Foreign Policy
Moved the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Withdrew from Iran deal and immediately began the process of re-imposing sanctions that had been lifted or waived.
Treasury has issued sanctions targeting Iranian activities and entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force
Since enacting sanctions, Iran’s crude exports have fallen off, the value of Iran’s currency has plummeted, and international companies have pulled out of the country.
All nuclear-related sanctions will be back in full force by early November 2018.
Historic summit with North Korean President Kim Jong-Un, bringing beginnings of peace and denuclearization to the Korean Peninsula.
The two leaders have exchanged letters and high-level officials from both sides have met resulting in tremendous progress.
North Korea has halted nuclear and missile tests.
Negotiated the return of the remains of missing-in-action soldiers from the Korean War.
Imposed strong sanctions on Venezuelan dictator Nicholas Maduro and his inner circle.
Executive order preventing those in the U.S. from carrying out certain transactions with the Venezuelan regime, including prohibiting the purchase of the regime’s debt.
Responded to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.
Rolled out sanctions targeting individuals and entities tied to Syria’s chemical weapons program.
Directed strikes in April 2017 against a Syrian airfield used in a chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians.
Joined allies in launching airstrikes in April 2018 against targets associated with Syria’s chemical weapons use.
New Cuba policy that enhanced compliance with U.S. law and held the Cuban regime accountable for political oppression and human rights abuses.
Treasury and State are working to channel economic activity away from the Cuban regime, particularly the military.
Changed the rules of engagement, empowering commanders to take the fight to ISIS.
ISIS has lost virtually all of its territory, more than half of which has been lost under Trump.
ISIS’ self-proclaimed capital city, Raqqah, was liberated in October 2017.
All Iraqi territory had been liberated from ISIS.
More than a dozen American hostages have been freed from captivity all of the world.
Action to combat Russia’s malign activities, including their efforts to undermine the sanctity of United States elections.
Expelled dozens of Russian intelligence officers from the United States and ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle, WA.
Banned the use of Kaspersky Labs software on government computers, due to the company’s ties to Russian intelligence.
Imposed sanctions against five Russian entities and three individuals for enabling Russia’s military and intelligence units to increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities.
Sanctions against seven Russian oligarchs, and 12 companies they own or control, who profit from Russia’s destabilizing activities.
Sanctioned 100 targets in response to Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in Eastern Ukraine.
Enhanced support for Ukraine’s Armed Forces to help Ukraine better defend itself.
Helped win U.S. bid for the 2028 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Helped win U.S.-Mexico-Canada’s united bid for 2026 World Cup.

Defense
Executive order keeping the detention facilities at U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay open.
$700 billion in military funding for FY 2018 and $716 billion for FY 2019.
Largest military pay raise in nearly a decade.
Ordered a Nuclear Posture Review to ensure America’s nuclear forces are up to date and serve as a credible deterrent.
Released America’s first fully articulated cyber strategy in 15 years.
New strategy on national biodefense, which better prepares the nation to defend against biological threats.
The administration has announced that it will use whatever means necessary to protect American citizens and servicemen from unjust prosecution by the International Criminal Court.
Released an America first National Security Strategy.
Put in motion the launch of a Space Force as a new branch of the military and relaunched the National Space Council.
Encouraged the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies to increase defense spending to their agreed-upon levels.
In 2017 alone, there was an increase of more than 4.8 percent in defense spending amongst NATO allies.
Every member state has increased defense spending.
Eight NATO allies will reach the 2 percent benchmark by the end of 2018 and 15 allies are on trade to do so by 2024.
NATO allies spent over $42 billion dollars more on defense since 2016.
Executive order to help military spouses find employment as their families deploy domestically and abroad.

Veterans affairs
Signed the VA Accountability Act and expanded VA telehealth services, walk-in-clinics, and same-day urgent primary and mental health care.
Delivered more appeals decisions – 81,000 – to veterans in a single year than ever before.
Strengthened protections for individuals who come forward and identify programs occurring within the VA.
Signed legislation that provided $86.5 billion in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the largest dollar amount in history for the VA.
VA MISSION Act, enacting sweeping reform to the VA system that:
Consolidated and strengthened VA community care programs.
Funding for the Veterans Choice program.
Expanded eligibility for the Family Caregivers Program.
Gave veterans more access to walk-in care.
Strengthened the VA’s ability to recruit and retain quality healthcare professionals.
Enabled the VA to modernize its assets and infrastructure.
Signed the VA Choice and Quality Employment Act in 2017, which authorized $2.1 billion in additional funds for the Veterans Choice Program.
Worked to shift veterans’ electronic medical records to the same system used by the Department of Defense, a decades-old priority.
Issued an executive order requiring the Secretaries of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs to submit a joint plan to provide veterans access to access to mental health treatment as they transition to civilian life.
Increased transparency and accountability at the VA by launching an online “Access and Quality Tool,” providing veterans with access to wait time and quality of care data.
Signed legislation to modernize the claims and appeal process at the VA.
Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, providing enhanced educational benefits to veterans, service members, and their family members.
Lifted a 15-year limit on veterans’ access to their educational benefits.
Created a White House VA Hotline to help veterans and principally staffed it with veterans and direct family members of veterans.
VA employees are being held accountable for poor performance, with more than 4,000 VA employees removed, demoted, and suspended so far.
Signed the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act, increasing the number of VA employees that can assist justice-involved veterans.

U.S. weekly jobless claims point to strong labor market

FILE PHOTO: People wait in line to attend TechFair LA, a technology job fair, in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for jobless benefits fell more than expected last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could further ease concerns about the economy’s health.

The report from the Labor Department on Thursday followed data last week showing employers hired the most workers in 10 months in December and increased wages for their workers.

Surveys showing steep declines in consumer and manufacturing activity in December had stoked fears that the economy was rapidly losing momentum.

“There are increasing risks and caution over the economic outlook in 2019, but jobless claims say the seas are calm and it looks to be smooth sailing for the economy for now,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 216,000 for the week ended Jan. 5. Data for the prior week was revised up to show 2,000 more applications received than previously reported.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims declining to 225,000 in the latest week. The Labor Department said only claims for Puerto Rico were estimated last week.

U.S. financial markets were little moved by the claims report.

Claims were boosted in the week ending Dec. 29 as workers furloughed because of a partial shutdown of the U.S. government applied for benefits. The federal government partially closed on Dec. 22 as President Donald Trump demanded that the U.S. Congress give him $5.7 billion this year to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico.

The shutdown, which has affected a quarter of the government, including the Commerce Department, has left 800,000 employees furloughed or working without pay. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without pay.

FEDERAL WORKER CLAIMS RISE

Claims by federal workers are reported separately and with a one-week lag. The number of federal employees filing for jobless benefits increased by 3,831 to 4,760 in the week ending Dec. 29. Furloughed federal government workers can submit claims for unemployment benefits, but payment would depend on whether Congress decides to pay their salaries retroactively.

The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 2,500 to 221,750 last week.

The economy created 312,000 jobs in December. The unemployment rate rose two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9 percent as some unemployed Americans piled into the labor market, confident of their job prospects.

While labor market strength has helped to calm fears that the economy, tighter financial market conditions and slowing global growth could make the Federal Reserve cautious about raising interest rates this year.

Minutes of the U.S. central bank’s Dec. 18-19 policy meeting published on Wednesday showed “many” officials were of the view that the Fed “could afford to be patient about further policy firming.”

The Fed has forecast two rate hikes this year. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and several policymakers have said they would be patient and flexible in policy decisions this year.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 28,000 to 1.72 million for the week ended Dec. 29. The four-week moving average of the so-called continuing claims increased 15,250 to 1.72 million.

November’s wholesale inventories report from the Commerce Department’s Census Bureau, which was scheduled for release on Thursday, will not be published because of the government shutdown.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Canada optimistic NAFTA deal can be struck this month: source

FILE PHOTO: Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland takes part in a news conference at the Embassy of Canada in Washington, U.S., August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Chris Wattie/File Photo

By David Ljunggren

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Canada is increasingly optimistic it can reach a deal with the United States to salvage the North American Free Trade Agreement, although it may take until the end of September, a source with direct knowledge of the talks said on Friday.

U.S. and Canadian officials resumed their negotiations this week to modernize the 1994 pact, which governs $1.2 trillion a year in trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico and supports hundreds of thousands of jobs.

President Donald Trump has struck a trade deal with Mexico and threatened to push ahead without Canada, a move that would kill NAFTA.

The talks in Washington are focused on Canada’s dairy supply system, which the United States says hurts its exports, Ottawa’s desire to keep NAFTA’s Chapter 19 dispute resolution mechanism and Canadian media laws that favor domestically produced content.

The Canadian source, who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the situation, said Canadian negotiators thought it was quite possible the talks would continue until the end of this month.

A U.S. official told Reuters on Thursday that Canada needed to move further on dairy. In its recent trade deal with the European Union, Canada made concessions on dairy imports.

“We’re down to three issues: Chapter 19, the cultural issues and dairy. We’ve created leverage and driven Canada to the table,” the U.S. official said. “Part of our problem is that Canada has been backsliding on its commitments (on dairy).”

Trump has targeted what he sees as “unfair” trade as part of his “America First” agenda to boost U.S. manufacturing and jobs, imposing tariffs on trading partners, including Canada, China, the EU and Mexico. That has prompted retaliation.

Tens of billions of dollars in Chinese imports have been slapped with U.S. tariffs and a new round of duties are due to be triggered soon.

Both Canada and Mexico want Trump to agree to permanently exempt them from U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Washington has used those tariffs as leverage in the NAFTA talks.

Canada has used the provisions of NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanism to defend its lumber exports to the United States. Washington charges that Canadian lumber unfairly undercuts prices on U.S. lumber.

APPROVAL OF CONGRESS

Trump appeared to set a deadline for a deal this week, prompting aides to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland to work well into the evening on Thursday to find ways to move forward.

The Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, Kevin Brady, a powerful voice in Congress on trade, told reporters differences remained between the two sides over Canada’s dairy quota regime, a trade dispute resolution settlement procedure and “other longstanding issues.”

“My sense is that everyone is at the table with the intention of working these last, always difficult issues out,” Brady told reporters after speaking with Lighthizer on Thursday.

Trump has notified Congress he intends to sign the trade deal reached last week with Mexico by the end of November, and officials said the text would be published by around Oct. 1.

Negotiators have blown through several deadlines since the talks started in August 2017. As the process grinds on, some in Washington insist Trump cannot pull out of NAFTA without the approval of Congress.

(Writing by David Chance; Editing by Paul Simao)