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Fed 'beige book' survey shows modest U.S. growth

April 11, 2012|By Don Lee, Los Angeles Times

The Federal Reserve's latest report on regional economies paints a picture of a nation continuing to grow moderately, with car sales going strong, manufacturing adding to recent gains and the long-depressed housing market showing flickers of life.

But throughout the country, many industries are feeling the pinch of higher oil prices, says the Fed's so-called beige book, released Wednesday. And some employers around the nation are having trouble finding qualified workers, especially to fill high-skilled jobs.

Some of the hiring difficulty was reported by manufacturers, but it's a troubling sign that jobs are going unfilled when the national unemployment rate is 8.2% and millions of people are looking for full-time work. The greater the skills mismatch, the deeper the structural problems of the economy.

The latest beige book, which compiles anecdotal reports of the economy from the Fed's 12 bank districts, covered activity from mid-February to the end of March. Its summary is consistent with private projections that call for moderate economic growth of 2% to 2.5% in the first quarter.

That's not a pace strong enough to produce many jobs. In fact, some of the Fed's districts reported that employers were sticking with part-time and temporary workers and would hold off on expanding their payrolls further until they saw more robust economic growth. And though some districts, including Chicago and San Francisco, saw rising pay for skilled jobs in manufacturing and high technology, on the whole there was little upward wage pressure in the U.S.

The Fed's report also suggested that the warm winter weather juiced up the economy around the country, boosting retail sales, farming, tourism and real estate. Expanding construction of apartments and senior housing gave a lift to residential real estate, which showed improvements in most districts. The exceptions were Cleveland and San Francisco, where conditions were described as lackluster or at low levels.

don.lee@latimes.com

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