Uber Signals It’s Willing to Make Concessions to London

U.S. ride-hailing firm Uber is prepared to make concessions as it seeks to reverse a decision by London authorities not to renew its license in the city, which represents a potentially big blow for the fast-growing company, a newspaper reported.

The Sunday Times also quoted sources close to London’s transport body as saying the move was encouraging and suggested the possibility of talks.

“While we haven’t been asked to make any changes, we’d like to know what we can do,” Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager in London, told the newspaper. “But that requires a dialogue we sadly haven’t been able to have recently.”

A spokesman for Transport for London (TfL) declined to comment.

The Sunday Times said Uber’s concessions were likely to involve passenger safety and benefits for its drivers, possible limits on working hours to improve road safety and holiday pay.

TfL stunned the powerful U.S. start-up Friday when it deemed Uber unfit to run a taxi service for safety reasons and stripped it of its license from Sept. 30, although the company can continue to operate while it appeals.

The regulator cited failures to report serious criminal offenses, conduct sufficient background checks on drivers and other safety issues.

Uber responded by urging users in London to sign a petition that said the city authorities had “caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice.” The move echoed Uber’s strategy in disputes with other cities.

By 2200 GMT Saturday, more than 600,000 people had signed although it was not clear how many of them were in London.

A spokesman for Uber said around 20,000 Uber drivers had emailed the city’s mayor directly to object to the decision.


Amid Increased International Sanctions, North Korea Turns to Bitcoin for Cash

North Korea’s cash-strapped regime has long sought workarounds to the increasingly harsh international sanctions aimed at tightening the financial noose around its nuclear and missile programs.


Now, according to Recorded Future, an intelligence research firm backed by Google Venture, Pyongyang is making a foray into cyberspace, launching a bitcoin “mining” operation, which saw a dramatic spike in its activity in mid-May.

Although the bitcoin activity amounts to only a token amount of funds at this point, there is significant potential for it to become a major source of income for the regime, the company said.

Is North Korea’s pursuit of bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency used for purchasing goods and services online, something the United States as well as the international community should worry about?

WATCH: What is bitcoin?

VOA Korean spoke with Priscilla Moriuchi, a Recorded Future director. Formerly with the National Security Agency (NSA) as threat intelligence manager and senior expert on East Asia and Pacific regional and cyber issues, she discussed in detail her findings on North Korea’s cyberactivities. Her answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Could you describe how Recorded Future first detected the North Korean activity in bitcoin?

Priscilla Moriuchi: The bitcoin mining [from North Korea] started on May 17 and continued through the end of our data set, which was July 3. This was a critical moment in terms of bitcoin [mining activities] because before then, I haven’t seen any activity that we had insight into indicating that [the North Koreans] were interested in bitcoin.

Is there any substantive evidence for the North Korean bitcoin mining operation?

Moriuchi: [Mining] bitcoin is very computationally intensive. It requires a lot of energy and high capacity computers. It also requires a lot of internet bandwidth because it constantly communicates with other bitcoin nodes (a peer-to-peer network consisting of computers, which allows for transactions to be broadcast to other users worldwide) to validate the blockchain (the digital ledger technology that records all virtual money transactions) that they are putting together. So mining activity is pretty distinct in terms of volume, and the [internet] ports and protocols (IP address) that are used are also pretty distinct. It can give you a decent signature.

Who is running the North Korean bitcoin mining operations, and why do you think the country has finally begun mining bitcoin?

Moriuchi: The first [hypothesis] is that it could have been an activity conducted by the state, whether it be the military or the intelligence services, for the purposes of raising funds for the regime. The second hypothesis is that it was an individual user … but because of the bandwidth and energy that were required, it would have to be known or permitted by the state and the leadership.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen increasingly tough sanctions levied upon North Korea by the United States, other international partners and by the United Nations. Those sanctions have increasingly cut off North Korea’s access to the traditional financial system and [its] ability to generate funds for state operations. We believe that bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining or activity involving cryptocurrency is a way for North Korea to generate funds and get around some of the sanctions.

Do you think North Korea has come to a conclusion that using cryptocurrency to generate funds for the regime is safer than other illicit ways — for instance, smuggling drugs or counterfeiting money?

Moriuchi: [Mining bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency] is not illegal. There’s nothing about [using cryptocurrency] that puts North Korea in a worse spot in terms of sanctions or legal violations. So that’s one. Two, you can buy many things. You can exchange cryptocurrency for actual currency, but you can also buy physical goods with cryptocurrency. So it’s another way for them to purchase things they might need without using the financial system.

There were reports that North Korea might have launched cyberattacks against South Korean virtual currency exchanges. Do the North Koreans have such a capacity?

Moriuchi: Yes, definitely. When it comes to North Korean hacking activities, we broadly underestimate their capabilities because many people believe [it is] such an isolated country where most people don’t have access to the internet and ask how they can possibly have indigenous experts, how they can possibly train people well enough to be able to conduct some of these very sophisticated hacks.

But what we have come to know over time is that they are sophisticated actors. They do have in-depth understanding of internet networks and communications.

Do you believe North Korea meddled in the Sony hack in 2014?

Moriuchi: Yes, both the federal government like the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and NSA have both come out and said that North Korea was behind the Sony attack. I think most people who follow North Korea agree with the government assessments.

It seems that reasons differ for North Korea’s cyberattacks against South Korean virtual currency exchanges and for the Sony attack. Why is that so?

Moriuchi: North Korean cyberactivities really started about 2008 and 2009. [They were] mainly toward South Korean government, corporations and media, as well as some U.S. government entities, and they were intended to [cause] chaos and to disrupt South Korea and undermine systems there. After the Sony attack, [there seemed to be a] transition in most of the North Korean attacks that we in the private sector have been able to follow toward financial services, toward generating money and raising funds. I think we are in this new period in terms of North Korean cyberactivity.

How much profit does North Korea make from mining bitcoin?

Moriuchi: At current rates, let’s say [North Korea] earned about $100,000. So in terms of the amount of money that North Korea may need for their missile program, $100,000 is probably not very much. If you put that next to what experts estimate North Korea pulls in just through its other kinds of criminal operations, such as the drug trade, drug smuggling and counterfeiting of U.S. dollar bills, around $500 million to $1 billion a year, $100,000 is a drop in the bucket.

Given the token amount of money North Korea makes through the bitcoin mining activity, is it far-fetched to say the North is tapping this digital currency exchange in order to evade sanctions and earn income for the regime?

Moriuchi: Cryptocurrency, specifically bitcoin mining, is one other method for them to circumvent sanctions and to generate funds. It’s not the primary means of earning funds for the regime right now, but it’s certainly something that they could expand and that would be much more difficult for the international community to be able to track and limit.  

Why is it so hard to track the bitcoin activity?

Moriuchi: Bitcoin was designed to be anonymous, and it doesn’t keep track of identifiers, such as IPs and usernames, while mining, buying or spending bitcoin.

Additionally in the WannaCry attack, in early August three bitcoin wallets associated with WannaCry were emptied. What we saw were many steps taken by presumably the North Koreans to further obfuscate where the funding was going. So first off, they went through a bitcoin mixer, which is a service that essentially throws all the bitcoin into one pot and then out comes the amount you threw in but it’s not the same bitcoin that you put in. So it anonymizes your identity. After going through that, they then convert it to another cryptocurrency. So they went to great lengths to avoid even the slim chance that they could be attributed through their bitcoin transactions.

What do you think about the claim that the U.S. could take out North Korea’s missiles before launch through jamming or other cyber methods?

Moriuchi: There are two internets [in North Korea]. One, the global internet, and then the domestic intranet, the one that regular North Koreans, though a small number, actually have access. And then you have various other networks within the country — the government’s and the military’s. The connections between the global internet and anything inside North Korea are very few, based on the research that I did. So [even] if it was possible for the United States or whoever to attack a North Korean missile site or a launch using a cyberattack, it would be very difficult.


How did you become interested in analyzing North Korean internet activities?

Moriuchi: We have this very unique set of data … and we felt like we can give much more context to the whole debate about North Korea, especially about their cyberactivity. We did a big analysis over the past few months, and we came away with a number of conclusions based on North Korean leadership internet activity. The biggest one for us was that, based on the activity that we saw, the North Korean ruling elite and their leadership are much more active and engaged in the world, popular culture, international news, and with contemporary services, than most outsiders would have believed. They go to Facebook, they go to Instagram every day, they stream video and a lot of other things that many of us do. The 0.1 percent of [the North Korean population] who has access to the world internet does those same things.

Jenny Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA Korean.


Solar Boom or Bust? Companies Seek Tariffs on Solar Imports

Cheap solar panels imported from China and other countries have led to a boom in the U.S. solar industry, where rooftop and other installations have surged 10-fold since 2011.

But two U.S. solar manufacturers say the flood of imports has led one to bankruptcy and forced the other to lay off three-quarters of its workforce.

The International Trade Commission is set to decide Friday whether the imports, primarily from Asia, are causing “serious injury” to the companies. If so, the commission will recommend this fall whether the Trump administration should impose tariffs that could double the price of solar panels from abroad.

President Donald Trump has not cozied up to the solar industry, as he has for coal and other fossil fuels, but he is considered sympathetic to imposing tariffs on solar imports as part of his “America first” philosophy. A White House spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.

Both sides of the dispute were making their case ahead of Friday’s meeting.

“Simply put, the U.S. industry cannot survive under current market conditions,” a lawyer for Georgia-based Suniva Inc. wrote in a petition filed with the commission. Suniva brought the case with Oregon-based SolarWorld Americas.

Opposition to tariffs

Governors of four solar-friendly states — Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and North Carolina — oppose the tariff, warning it could jeopardize the industry. They cited a study showing that a global tariff could cause solar installations to drop by more than 50 percent in two years, a crushing blow as states push for renewable energy that does not contribute to climate change.

“The requested tariff could inflict a devastating blow on our states’ solar industries and lead to unprecedented job loss, at steep cost to our states’ economies,” the two Republicans and two Democrats wrote in a letter Thursday to the trade commission.

A group of former U.S. military officials also urged the Trump administration to reject solar tariffs, noting that the Defense Department is the nation’s largest energy consumer and follows a federal law calling for the Pentagon to procure 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.

Suniva called the case a matter of fairness. Even with better manufacturing methods, lower costs and “dramatically improved efficiency,” the company has “suffered substantial losses due to global imports,” Suniva said in its petition. The company declared bankruptcy this spring after laying off 190 employees and closing production sites in Georgia and Michigan.

SolarWorld Americas, meanwhile, has trimmed its workforce from 1,300 to 300, with more cuts likely.

“After nearly 30 factories have shut down in the wake of surging imports, the legacy of this pioneering American industry hangs in the balance,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas.

“We believe that the promise of solar — energy sustainability and independence — can be realized only with healthy American manufacturing to supply growing U.S. demand,” Stein said in a statement to The Associated Press.

Trade group speaks out

In a twist, the main trade group for the solar industry opposes tariffs and calls the trade case “an existential threat” to the industry.

“The stakes are exceedingly high. We are talking about 88,000 people in this country who could lose their jobs if these tariffs are put in place,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents an array of solar companies.

A global tariff could cause a sharp price hike that could force the U.S. to lose out on solar installations capable of powering more than 9 million homes over the next five years — more than has been installed to date, Hopper said. States could lose out on billions of dollars of infrastructure investment, she added.

Suniva and SolarWorld have themselves to blame for their struggles — not pressure from overseas, Hopper said.

“Here is the real story of this case: We have two foreign-owned, poorly managed companies using U.S. trade laws to put U.S. manufacturers out of business and causing U.S. employees to lose their jobs,” she said.

Indeed, while Suniva’s U.S. operations are based in Georgia, the company’s majority owner is in China. SolarWorld Americas is a subsidiary of German solar giant SolarWorld, which declared insolvency last month.

If an injury finding is made, the trade commission would have until mid-November to recommend a remedy to the president, with a final decision on tariffs expected in January.


Mercedes-Benz to Invest $1 Billion in US Electric Car Plant 

German carmaker Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to invest $1 billion to start making electric vehicles at its manufacturing plant in the southern U.S. state of Alabama.

The luxury automaker said it will manufacture electric SUVs under Mercedes’ EQ subbrand at the plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in just more than three years. The expansion is expected to create 600 jobs.

Daimler-Benz, which has more than 30 plants worldwide, said the Tuscaloosa plant will become the first in the U.S. to produce electric vehicles, and only the sixth in the world to do so.

Construction is to begin next year on the 92,900-square-meter facility. Daimler also said it will build a new global logistics center and aftersales North American hub in Bibb County, Alabama, about 8 kilometers from the Tuscaloosa plant.


Next Round of NAFTA Talks Take on Thornier Issues

The United States will present new proposals and begin to weigh into thornier issues of the North American Free Trade Agreement in the third round of negotiations starting in Ottawa Saturday, U.S. chief negotiator John Melle said Thursday.

The stepped-up negotiations come with four more rounds of talks left after Ottawa and a self-imposed year-end deadline to finish the talks before Mexico launches campaigning for its July presidential election.

“With progress made in several issue areas in the first two NAFTA negotiation rounds, USTR (United States Trade Representative) looks to move forward with additional new text proposals in round three of the negotiations,” Melle said in comments emailed to Reuters.

“At this point in the negotiations, more challenging issues will start taking center stage,” he added, without elaborating.

Third round

The first two rounds of talks between the United States, Canada and Mexico focused on consolidating language on chapters covering small- and medium-sized enterprises, competitiveness, digital trade, services and the environment.

Now, negotiators will begin to weigh into more contentious issues such as rules of origin — how much of a product’s components must originate from within North America — labor standards aimed at increasing Mexican wages and mechanisms for resolving trade and investment disputes.

In its negotiating strategy for revising NAFTA ahead of the start of the talks in July, the United States said it would emphasize reducing the U.S. trade deficit as a priority.

It also said it wanted to eliminate an arbitration system for resolving trade disputes, known as Chapter 19, that has largely prohibited the United States from pursuing anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against Canadian and Mexican firms.

Canada has suggested it will walk away from the talks if Chapter 19 is tossed aside.

Dispute resolution, sunset clause

Politico reported Thursday that the United States was considering dropping a binding mechanism in NAFTA for resolving government-to-government disputes in favor of an advisory system.

The proposal would be a major shift away from a decades-old push by the United States to build an international system of enforceable trade rules, Politico reported.

Canada and Mexico have dismissed a proposal by the Trump administration to add a five-year sunset provision to NAFTA.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said last week such a provision was needed because forecasts for U.S. export and job growth when NAFTA took effect in 1994 were “wildly optimistic” and failed to live up to expectations.

Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray told Reuters Sept. 15 that the sunset clause was unnecessary because the pact’s members can trigger a renegotiation or leave it at any time.

Since U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked NAFTA and threatened to tear up the agreement, Mexico has pushed to secure more access to the European Union, Brazil, Israel, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

Polls show support for NAFTA

A Reuters poll of economists Thursday found that Mexico and Canada will survive current talks with the United States on trade relatively unscathed.

Meanwhile, a separate poll by IPSOS published Thursday showed broad-based support among Americans, Canadians and Mexicans for NAFTA.


Rohingya Crisis Dents Myanmar Hopes of Western Investment Boom

When officials from Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon toured six European countries in June, they were hoping to drum up investment in transport, energy and education.

Instead, they were bombarded with questions about the country’s treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority, who have long complained of persecution by the Buddhist majority in the oil-rich, ethnically divided, western state of Rakhine.

“In each of every country, that issue was always brought up,” Hlaing Maw Oo, secretary of Yangon City Development Committee, told Reuters after the 16-day trip.

The situation in Rakhine has worsened dramatically since then, with more than 400,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh to escape a military counterinsurgency offensive the United Nations has described as “ethnic cleansing.”

Western trade and investment in Myanmar is small, but there were hopes that a series of reforms this year would pry open an economy stunted by international sanctions and decades of mismanagement under military rule.

With most sanctions now lifted, an expected flood of Western money was seen as a key dividend from the transition to civilian rule under Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. Regional diplomats saw it balancing China’s growing influence over its neighbor.

But Aung San Suu Kyi has been beset by international criticism for saying little about human rights abuses against the Rohingya, and lawyers, consultants and lobbyists say the European and U.S. companies that had been circling are now wary of the reputational risks of investing in the country.

Louis Yeung, managing principal of Yangon-based investment firm Faircap Partners, said one of his business partners — a listed, U.S.-based food and beverage company — decided to hold off its plan to enter the Myanmar market for three to five years, citing factors including slower-than-expected reforms and the Rohingya crisis.

“Their conclusion is that it wasn’t the right time for them,” he said. “They want to see more traction from the government and Rakhine is not helpful.”

On hold

The pressure has been growing in recent months, even on existing investors, with rights group AFD International calling on foreign firms to stop investing in Myanmar.

A small group of investors in U.S. oil major Chevron filed an unsuccessful motion at its annual general meeting urging it to pull out of its production-sharing contract with a state-run firm to explore for oil and gas, while Norwegian telecoms firm Telenor, which runs a mobile network in Myanmar, issued a statement calling for human rights protection.

Chevron declined to comment on its investment in Myanmar, while Telenor did not respond to several requests for comment.

Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament Committee on International Trade, said last week his delegation postponed a visit to Myanmar indefinitely, saying the human rights situation “does not allow a fruitful discussion on a potential EU-Myanmar investment agreement.”

Khin Aung Tun, vice chairman of the Myanmar Tourism Federation, told Reuters that global firms planning to hold conferences in Myanmar were now considering other locations.

“People were just starting to see Myanmar as a ‘good news’ story,” said Dane Chamorro, head of South East Asia at Control Risks, a global risk consultancy.

“Now you can imagine a boardroom in which someone mentions Myanmar and someone else says ‘hold on, I’ve just seen something on Myanmar on TV: villages burned down, refugees, etc.'”

In an interview published in Nikkei Asia Review on Thursday, Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged it was “natural” for foreign investors to be concerned, but repeated her view that economic development was the key to solving poor Rakhine’s long-standing problems.

“So, investments would actually help make the situation better,” she said.

In China’s orbit

Myanmar’s $70 billion economy should be a strong investment proposition for Western firms. It boasts large oil and gas reserves and natural resources such as rubies, jade and timber.

Wages are low and its youthful population of more than 50 million is eager for retail and manufacturing jobs.

In April, Myanmar passed a long-awaited investment law, simplifying procedures and granting foreign investors equal treatment to the locals. A game-changing law allowing foreigners to buy stakes in local firms is expected later this year.

“The investment conditions were improving,” said Dustin Daugherty, ASEAN lead for business intelligence at Dezan Shira & Associates, a consultancy for foreign investors in Asia.

Myanmar’s economy may not suffer much, however, if Western firms shun the country — or even if their governments were to reimpose some sanctions, although that appears unlikely for now.

Aung San Suu Kyi has sought to deepen relations with China at a time when Beijing is keen to push projects that fit with its Belt and Road initiative, which aims to stimulate trade by investment in infrastructure throughout Asia and beyond.

Myanmar trades with China as much as it does with its next four biggest partners: Singapore, Thailand, Japan and India.

None of that top five participated in previous sanctions.

Trade with the United States is only about $400 million and U.S. investment is just 0.5 percent of the total. Europe accounts for around a 10th of investment, while China and Hong Kong make up more than a third, and Singapore and Thailand another third.

Than Aung Kyaw, Deputy Director General of Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, told Reuters that European investors might have “second thoughts,” but he expected Asian investors to stay put.

China is already in talks to sell electricity to energy-hungry Myanmar and pushing for preferential access to a strategic port on the Bay of Bengal. In April, the two countries reached an agreement on an oil pipeline that pumps oil across Myanmar to southwest China.

“It is going to feed Aung San Suu Kyi straight into the hands of [Chinese President] Xi Jinping,” said John Blaxland, director at the ANU Southeast Asia Institute and head of the Strategic and Defense Studies Center.


The ATM at 50: How It’s Changed Consumer Behavior

An automated teller machine. The cash machine. In Britain, a cashpoint. ATMs, known for spitting out $20 bills (and imposing fees if you pick the wrong one), turn 50 years old this year. They’re ubiquitous – and possibly still a necessity, despite the big changes in how people pay for things.

It was a radical move when Barclays installed cash machines in a London suburb in 1967. The utilitarian machine gave fixed amounts of money, using special vouchers – the magnetic-striped ATM card hadn’t been invented yet. There was no way for a customer to transfer money between accounts, and bank employees tabulated the transactions manually at the end of each day.

As the ATMs became familiar, though, they changed not only the banking industry but made people comfortable interacting with kiosks in exchange for goods. Now that means getting movie tickets and boarding passes, self-checkout at grocery stores, and online shopping that brings products to your door with a few clicks. All are based on the idea that people can handle routine transactions by themselves without a teller or cashier.

“The ATM tapped into that innate force in people that gives gratification for doing a task on their own and it grew from there,” said Charles Kane, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

It was a radical concept at the time. The ATM wasn’t the first self-service device – vending machines and the automat had been popular before. But those dispensed items people could hold in their hand.

Bernardo Batiz-Lazo, a business professor and ATM historian (yes, they exist!) at Bangor University in Britain, said early users of automated tellers were often checking their balances twice: once to see how much was in their account, then again after withdrawing money to see if it registered.

“They were popular, but it took a long time to slowly convince customers to learn about ATMs and use them regularly,” Batiz-Lazo said.

For the banking industry, ATMs meant banks could be in thousands of places at once, not just in branches, and earn billions of dollars in fees from non-customers. Banks used to staff dozens of tellers at each branch to handle routine transactions, now many staffers work on other tasks, like sales or account maintenance.

Around the U.S. today are roughly 3 million cash machines, according to the ATM Industry Association. Most are actually not owned by banks, but by private companies that install them at convenience stores, restaurants and bars in hopes of grabbing customers who don’t want to find a bank branch.

The wide acceptance of the ATMs changed the types of cash Americans typically carry in the pocketbooks. Since ATMs became more widely available in the early 1980s, the twenty-dollar bill has regularly been the second-most printed bank note each year by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. The first place spot is held by the $1 bill.

Even as people use cash less, and credit cards or mobile payments more often, the ATM isn’t going anywhere for a while. At least, that’s what historians and – unsurprisingly – the ATM industry says. Devon Watson, vice president at Diebold Nixdorf, the world’s largest manufacturer of ATMs, says 85 percent of all transactions worldwide are still in cash.

Newer ATMs have more functions than ever. They accept check deposits, can transfer money between accounts, show an account balance, pay a credit card or mortgage payment, or even sell you stamps. NCR, another major manufacturer of ATMs, say the latest models are also designed to act more like smart devices. Kevin King of NCR says that includes “swipe, gesture, multi-touch.”

And future ATMs will likely start selling products as well. Have a checking account? The ATM will ask you whether you want to open a brokerage account. Much like tellers did.


French Protesters Stage Fresh Protests to Macron’s Labor Law

French labor unions staged fresh protests against President Emmanuel Macron’s contested labor law reforms Thursday — a day before he adopts them by executive order.


The nationwide action backed by the powerful, hard-left CGT trade union, saw protesters take to the streets in the second round of public opposition to the long-touted reforms that will give more power to employers to hire and fire workers. Macron says that’s needed to power the stagnant French economy and boost jobs.


In cities across the country, demonstrators waved anti-capitalist placards and angry personal messages against Macron, whose popularity has recently taken a hit.


In Paris, demonstrators brandishing posters reading “The state ruins the people” marched past the posh La Rotonde restaurant where Macron was branded arrogant for prematurely celebrating his victory in the first round of the elections before he had won the presidency.


The latest protests come a week after hundreds of thousands of protesters — half a million, according to the unions — took to the streets in the first major challenge to Macron’s fledgling presidency.


Macron is waving away the opposition and his government is pressing ahead with the labor reforms, backed by a robust majority in parliament.




Claims for US Jobless Aid Fall as Hurricane Impact Recedes

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped by 23,000 last week to 259,000 as the economic impact of Hurricane Harvey began to fade.


The Labor Department said Thursday that the less-volatile four-week average rose by 6,000 to 268,750. Overall, nearly 2 million Americans are collecting jobless aid, down almost 6 percent from a year ago.


In early September, jobless claims shot up by the most in five years as Harvey battered Texas. But last week claims in Texas fell 45 percent as more people returned to work. Hurricane Irma continued to have an impact on the job market in Florida, where claims more than doubled from the previous week.


Despite the weather shocks, claims nationwide remain low by historic standards. New weekly claims have remained below 300,000 for the longest stretch going back to 1970.


Claims are a proxy for layoffs, and most employers are confident enough to be holding onto staff. Unemployment is near a 16-year low at 4.4 percent. Employers are adding an average 176,000 jobs a month so far in 2017, down from 187,000 last year and 226,000 in 2015. Some businesses say the job market is so tight that they can’t find workers to fill job openings.