Poll: Americans Mostly Concerned with Economy, Not Gas Prices

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- Gas prices?  Who's worried about gas prices?

Not the American public, if a new Gallup poll is to be believed.

Though motorists are paying more for gasoline than at any point since it averaged four bucks a gallon in July 2008, there doesn't seem to be all that much anxiety about it.  Just six percent of respondents in the Gallup poll consider rising fuel costs their most important concern.

As for all the unrest in the Middle East and Libya, only one percent of Americans put that at the top of their list of worries.

The real concern remains the economy, with over seven in ten naming some aspect of it as the most pressing problem in the country.

According to the Gallup poll, the top three important issues are the economy in general, unemployment and the federal budget deficit.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Democrats Want Oil Now from Strategic Petroleum Reserve

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- With the prices at the pump in the U.S. soaring due to unstable conditions in the Middle East and northern Africa, some Democrats are calling upon President Obama to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to ease the burden on motorists.

In the House, lawmakers led by Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey introduced a bill Thursday to release oil from the reserves, which are currently near their full capacity of 727 million barrels.

Markey said that this action would stabilize prices of gas in the short-term while protecting consumers from price gouging.

A similar call to release oil from the reserves came from New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingham, who chairs the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee.

The Democrat said that while there's currently enough supplies, "you’re seeing the price of oil go up in world markets because of the concern that the [Libyan] disruption that’s occurring will get even worse."

Up to now, there's been no move by the White House to tap into the SPR.  Republicans say the reserves are intended to be used only if flow of fuel is disrupted by a natural disaster or a blockade of oil imports.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Clothing 'Made in America': Should U.S. Manufacture More Clothes?

Dynamic Graphics/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- What would happen if you took off every article of clothing that wasn't made in America?

That's the challenge ABC News gave commuters in New York City's famed Grand Central Station recently, with some eye-popping results.

In most cases, our participants would have been standing naked in the terminal had we not called off the experiment before it was too late. It's a stark example of a stunning fact: Some 98 percent of the clothing purchased in the United States is imported from abroad. Just two percent of clothing bought in this country is manufactured on U.S. soil.

On the concourse at Grand Central, the clothing labels read like a trip around the world, with sweatshirts made in Honduras, T-shirts from Vietnam and scarves from China.

China is by far the clothing leader, with whole towns dedicated to manufacturing specific goods. The town of Datang, for example, makes one-third of the world's socks. ABC's David Muir visited a Datang sock factory last fall, meeting a worker named Chen Gulfang. She and her husband came to work at the factory, leaving behind their nine-year-old son with his grandparents to take advantage of a big opportunity. The demand is so great in Datang that the factory head said the company was looking to hire 200 more workers immediately.

A worker at the Chinese sock factory makes just $14 a day, or $270 in month. In America, a clothing worker makes $88 a day, or $1,760 a month.

Given that stark difference, how can an American clothing company ever manufacture affordable socks? Many economists say that American companies shouldn't even try.

"I don't think this is where we should compete with China, frankly," said Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institute. "What we're good at is the production of advanced goods."

In the case of clothing, that means focusing on the design of high-technology gear like the waterproof and windproof jackets from outdoor clothing giant The North Face. At The North Face's lab in San Leandro, Calif., 400 employees work diligently to design the next generation of advanced clothing that foreign competitors simply can't match.

But despite the challenges presented by cheaper foreign manufacturers, there are still plenty of companies that have continued to make clothing domestically.

At Round House Workwear in Oklahoma, employees have been manufacturing durable work clothes for 108 years. Today, the company is thriving, fueled in large part by customers who want to buy clothing that is 100 percent made in America.

"In the last 40 years, we're one of the few companies that's never had a layoff," said David Antosh, vice president of Round House Workwear. "And we're one of the only ones that's actually grown."

In 2008, the company opened a second factory to help it keep up with increasing business. Eighty employees manufacture clothes that are sold domestically and even exported to boutiques in France, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom where fashion-conscious buyers snap them up.

"They're all interested in the authenticity of made in the U.S.A.," said Antosh.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Employer Turns to Facebook Friends for Hiring

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- A potential employer wants to ask your friends a few questions about you before offering you the job of a lifetime. What would you do?

"Don't worry, it'll be fun. Trust us," the website of R/GA says.

The branding company whose clients include Nike, Verizon, L'Oreal Paris and Nokia has a new approach for the job application process: interviewing your friends. The company is merging friends and digital media in the job hunt to make "The Social Interview."

"As a part of the application process for the R/GA internship program, we'll be posting questions on your Facebook wall for your friends to answer," the company's website explains. "First, you'll apply through our Jobvite site. Next, you'll schedule your Social interview. Then, we'll post three questions -- one per day -- starting on the scheduled date."

Not everyone is impressed.

"It's foolish," says Dan Schawbel, personal branding expert and author of Me 2.0. "What happened to the old job references? A lot of people's friends don't know them on a professional level or know how you would behave in the workplace like your coworkers or bosses would know."

Job applicants interested in the paid internship at R/GA can opt-in or opt-out of the round of questions aimed at family, friends, frenemies, associates, childhood schoolmates and gawkers of the applicant's Facebook wall.

But some people are leery of the opt-out/opt-in component. "They say the process is 'optional' but is it really?," John Millikin, a professor at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business, asks. "If you decline to participate, does that come down as an indicator that you not the 'innovative and creative thinker' that they are seeking?"

R/GA's Moorman said the "decision will primarily be based on a candidate's technical skills and portfolio and in-person interviews, but this is a new way for them to demonstrate sophistication around using social media."

The buzz word is "social media," a common theme among employers. The company is not the first employer to use Facebook as an entree into the lives of job applicants. Facebook, the website that boasts 600 million users, is a popular scouting ground for employers that oft-times search the site for background on a candidate.

But also at issue is whether the process is necessary or relevant to the job.

"If you're looking to check the facility of the applicant to manage the type of tool, then that might be relevant," professor Millikin said.

The social interview may be seen as creatively relevant to some, or a breach of privacy to others.

What is known is that the company is hoping the process will galvanize job applicants to show a more strategic side and not as a means to sift through their underwear drawer.

The company's attempt to spread the word about its summer internship program has resulted in more than 100 applications and is gaining traction. The digital media agency is hoping applicants "can demonstrate their creativity by motivating their friends to answer," R/GA's Moorman said.

And, for applicants worried about what their friends will say, there's always delete.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Middle East Unrest, Jump in Jobless Claims Cause Stocks to Drop

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The Dow closed below the 12,000 mark for the first time in weeks Thursday, off 228 points at 11,984.  The Nasdaq lost 51 points, and S&P gave up 25.

There are two main reasons for the big drop.  One, as you might assume, is the unrest in Libya and the Middle East. As for crude, it dropped to $101 a barrel.

The other reason: an overall jump in first-time jobless claims last week.

Overall, unemployment's still moving in the right direction.  The Labor Department says it fell or held steady in 40 states in January.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Foreclosures Fall in February

ABC News(IRVINE, Calif.) -- The foreclosure-listing firm RealtyTrac says home foreclosures in the U.S. fell to a 36-month low in February.  

Lenders delayed taking action against homeowners last month while they deal with increased scrutiny over the handling of home repossessions. "We've been hit by two tsunami waves in this particular foreclosure cycle," according to Rick Sharga with RealtyTrac. "The first wave was caused by unsubstantially high home prices and really bad lending practices. That led to an economic downturn which led to high unemployment rates which resulted in a second wave of foreclosure actions."

Realtytrac believes the economic improvements we're seeing right now will result in few foreclosure actions, but not really for another year or so. "What we're seeing right now are numbers that are artificially low because lenders, servicers and courts are very busy reprocessing foreclosure actions that were misfiled in the first place," says Sharga

Nevada tops the home-foreclosure list once again, a position it's held for over two years now.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Claims for Unemployment Benefits Increase by 26,000

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- In more bad news for the state of the economy, the number of people filing for unemployment benefits in the first week of March increased, according to Labor Department data released Thursday.

For the week ending March 5, the department said claims went up by 26,000 to 397,000.  The previous week, claims stood at 371,000.

The four-week average, in turn, also saw an increase of 3,000 claims, going up to 392,250 from the previous week's average of 389,250.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Last Chance for Blockbuster?

Blockbuster Inc.(NEW YORK) -- Thursday is a critical day for Blockbuster as the video rental chain must convince a federal bankruptcy judge in New York it deserves one more chance to survive.

Several movie studios are expected to tell the judge Blockbuster should be forced out of business. They're owed millions for and other products shipped to Blockbuster that never sold.

The video rental stores are losing money and the future for 20 thousand employees hangs in the balance. At least ten separate groups of investors may want to buy Blockbuster. The judge will decide whether the company is worth saving. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Slow Global Growth Causes Drop in Market

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Concerns about slower global growth are a negative for the stock market. The Dow, S&P, and other averages had their biggest one day drops since November Thursday. Energy and raw materials stocks were among the biggest losers as the Dow Jones index dipped below 12,000 for a time Thursday morning.

In other economic news, AOL plans to cut 900 jobs worldwide, 200 in the U.S. This follows AOL's recent purchase of Huffington

The labor department says unemployment benefit claims rose last week by 26,000 to 397,000. The increase comes after the total hit its lowest level in 3 years the week before.

Cattle futures have soared to all-time highs this year as export demand for American beef is up, and supply may drop later this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Tax Tip: Save the Stress, Hire a Tax Preparer

Comstock Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Choosing the right tax preparer could save you time and money.

Six in 10 Americans use the help of a preparer come tax season, according to the IRS, but Kiplinger’s Mary Beth Franklin says that most people can do it themselves if they have a straightforward return.

H&R Block's Kathy Pickering says it often comes down to time.

"Even if they feel like they can do their taxes, they just don't want to take the time, they don't want to be bothered with the hassle factor," Pickering said.

When choosing a tax preparer, make sure they have an IRS tax identification number. Jodie Reynolds of the Internal Revenue Service also suggests having the preparer sign your tax returns with that number.

"You'll want to find out what their service fees are because if you go to a preparer that's going to base their fee on a percentage of your refund, that should be a red flag," Reynolds said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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