- - Thursday, February 16, 2012

CAMPAIGN

Romney struggling with working-class whites

Republican Mitt Romney is faltering with white working-class voters crucial to his party’s drive to capture the White House. That’s a problem for him because he’s trying to fend off a rising GOP challenger, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who appeals strongly to that group.

Combined polls of voters in the first five states that held presidential nominating contests show Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has led his rivals by comfortable margins among white college graduates.

But the exit and entry surveys show only a modest Romney advantage among whites who lack college degrees. The imbalance was most pronounced among less-educated white men, with whom his lead disappeared completely.

More recently, a national poll of Republicans by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center shows Mr. Romney leading Mr. Santorum narrowly among whites with degrees but trailing him among working-class whites.

HOUSE

Boehner: Do more to stop Iran nukes

House Speaker John A. Boehner says the U.S. needs to do more to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The Ohio Republican said the Iran Sanctions Act approved by Congress gives President Obama several options for pressuring Tehran to abandon its nuclear program. He said Mr. Obama has used some of those tools, but that others are also available.

He did not specify what actions he thinks the U.S. should take, but said he agrees with Mr. Obama that all options should be considered — a phrase that is often used to threaten military action.

Iran denies that it is developing nuclear weapons.

Mr. Boehner made his remarks a day after Iran said it might soon halt its shipments of oil to European nations and said it has progressed in developing nuclear fuel.

LABOR

Unemployment applications drop to a 4-year low

The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell to the lowest point in almost four years last week, the latest signal that the job market is steadily improving.

The Labor Department says weekly applications for unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000. It was the fourth drop in five weeks and the fewest number of claims since March 2008.

The four-week average, which smooths out fluctuations in the weekly data, fell for the fifth straight week to 365,250. The average has fallen nearly 13 percent in the past year.

The consistent decline indicates that companies are laying off fewer workers, and hiring is likely picking up further. When applications drop consistently below 375,000, it usually signals that hiring is strong enough to lower the unemployment rate.

In January, the economy added a net 243,000 jobs, the most in nine months. And the unemployment rate dropped for the fifth straight month, to 8.3 percent. The economy has added an average of 201,000 jobs per month for the past three months.

Faster economic growth is spurring the additional hiring. The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the final three months of last year — a full percentage point higher than in the previous quarter.

Most economists expect growth to slow in the current quarter, because companies won’t need to rebuild their stockpiles of goods as much as they did last winter.

But there are signs that the economy is still expanding at a healthy rate. Factory output got off to a robust start this year, and it ended 2011 with the fastest growth in five years, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

Factories are adding jobs to keep up with higher demand. Manufacturers added 50,000 jobs last month, the most in a year.

In addition, retail sales rebounded last month after a sluggish holiday season. The gain suggests that the recent job growth is supporting more consumer spending.

Still, the job market has a long way to go before it fully recovers from the damage of the Great Recession. Nearly 13 million people remain unemployed. And 8.3 percent unemployment is still painfully high.

MICHIGAN

CNN scrubs debate after candidates cancel

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. | CNN has called off a GOP presidential debate scheduled for March 1 in Georgia after former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas said they would not attend.

The campaign of former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania had signaled that he was also unlikely to attend.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the other three Republican candidates are scheduled to debate Feb. 22 in Mesa, Ariz.

Arizona and Michigan hold primaries on Feb. 28.

Mr. Romney’s campaign noted Thursday that its candidate already has been in 20 debates.

CONGRESS

Post office expects $18B annual loss

The Postal Service is warning it will lose as much as $18.2 billion each year by 2015 if Congress doesn’t give it leeway to eliminate Saturday mail delivery and make other service cuts.

In a letter to Congress, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe describes a five-year business plan that reiterates the mail agency’s proposals to switch to five-day delivery, close up to 252 mail-processing centers and 3,700 local post offices and slow delivery of first-class mail.

He says the proposals would allow the agency to save $20 billion a year by 2015 and repay its $12.9 billion debt to the Treasury.

In contrast, he says unless Congress acts soon, the Postal Service will incur significant annual losses and become a “long-term burden to the American taxpayer.”

FTC

Regulators say parents need more info on apps

Children have easy and inexpensive access to hundreds of smartphone applications, but parents are in the dark about what personal information is being collected from their children and how companies are using the data, government regulators said Thursday.

The Federal Trade Commission said companies that make mobile apps, and the stores that sell them, should be providing parents with basic, simple-to-understand information about their products so they can choose which apps their children can use. The report also says developers should disclose whether their apps connect with social-media services or include advertisements.

Mobile apps can automatically capture smartphone information, such as a person’s location, phone number, call logs and personal contacts.

The market for mobile apps has exploded over the past few years, according to the FTC. In 2008, there were about 600 apps available to smartphone users. Now there are hundreds of thousands that have been downloaded more than 28 billion times, the commission said.

“This rapidly growing market provides enormous opportunities and benefits for app users of all ages, but raises questions about users’ privacy, especially when the users are children and teens,” the report by the FTC staff said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports