UPDATE


Hurricanes cause rare monthly US job loss but rebound likely

Published: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 6:42 AM
Updated: Friday, October 06, 2017 @ 6:40 AM


            In this Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, photo, Phil Wiggett, right, a recruiter with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, looks at a resume during a job fair in San Jose, Calif. On Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
In this Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017, photo, Phil Wiggett, right, a recruiter with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, looks at a resume during a job fair in San Jose, Calif. On Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, the U.S. government issues the September jobs report. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

A pullback in U.S. hiring last month resulting from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will likely prove short-lived, with a resilient job market pointing to gains in the coming months.

The unemployment rate fell to a fresh 16-year low of 4.2 percent, from 4.4 percent, the Labor Department said Friday in its September jobs report. The proportion of Americans with jobs rose to a nearly nine-year high. And even long-dormant wage growth showed signs of picking up.

The economy lost 33,000 jobs last month — the first monthly loss in nearly seven years — as the hurricanes closed thousands of businesses in Texas, Florida and other parts of the Southeast. Yet hiring is widely expected to rebound in coming months as companies reopen and bring back workers and construction firms ramp up repair and renovation work.

Previous natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, also inflicted short-term job losses that were followed by intensified hiring.

"The labor market remains in good shape," said Gus Faucher, chief economist at PNC Financial. "The job losses were due to disruptions from hurricanes, not underlying weakness in the economy."

Outside of hurricane-hit areas, many Americans found work. The number of people describing themselves as unemployed fell to 6.8 million, the fewest since March 2007, before the Great Recession began.

That sign of health makes it appear all but certain that the Federal Reserve will raise its benchmark short-term interest rate in December. According to data from the CME Group, investors now foresee an 88 percent chance of a Fed rate hike then.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said she expects pay raises to accelerate as unemployment declines. That, in turn, might lift inflation closer to the Fed's annual 2 percent target level if companies raised prices to pay for higher salaries.

Last month's drop was driven by huge losses in restaurants and bars, which accounted for 105,000 fewer jobs, a sign of the damage to Florida's tourism industry. Overall, roughly 1.5 million people were unable to work last month because of the weather, the government said, the most in 20 years.

Hourly workers who couldn't work because of the storms last month and missed a paycheck would have been counted as not working in the government's survey of businesses, thereby lowering September's job total. That's true even if those employees returned to work after the storm passed or will return.

The unemployment rate fell because it is calculated with a separate survey of households. That survey counted people as employed even if they were temporarily out of work because of the storms. In fact, the proportion of adults who have jobs rose to 60.4 percent, the highest since January 2009.

That's a sign that the low unemployment rate is pulling more Americans off the sidelines and back into the job market. During the recession and the sluggish recovery that followed, many people gave up searching for work.

Dan Harmon, chief operating officer of Smoothie King, a 900-store chain based near New Orleans, said the storms temporarily closed 66 stores in the Houston area and disrupted the company's end-of-summer hiring. One store was so damaged it still hasn't reopened.

In August and September, the company typically hires new employees to replace college workers who return to school. But that process was delayed in Florida and Texas.

"We weren't able to do our normal hiring spree that we usually do going into the fall," Harmon said.

The storms also disrupted the company's expansion plans. It opened 65 stores nationwide in the July-September quarter. It would have opened four more, but they were damaged while under construction. Each Smoothie King employs about 15 hourly workers and two to three managers.

Nationwide, an alternative barometer of the labor force that includes not only the unemployed but also part-time workers who'd prefer full-time jobs, fell to 8.3 percent. That's the lowest such level in over a decade.

Average hourly wages rose a healthy 2.9 percent from 12 months earlier. That trend was probably inflated by the loss of so many lower-paid workers in hurricane-hit areas. Higher-paid workers likely disproportionately boosted the wage figure.

"We think the magnitude of this distortion was quite small and the underlying wage numbers are indeed firming," said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase.

The government on Friday also revised up wage gains in August — before the hurricanes hit — to a 2.7 percent annual rate, from 2.5 percent. That suggests that pay could be picking up, even excluding the storms, and encouraging more people to look for work.

More than 11 million people had been employed in the 87 counties in Texas and Florida that were declared disaster areas, the government says. That's equal to about 7.7 percent of the nation's workforce.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were hammered by Hurricane Maria, aren't included in the national unemployment report. Their data will be included in the state jobs figures to be released Oct. 20.

The mostly solid employment numbers come after other signs the economy is solid. This week, a survey of services firms — covering restaurants, construction companies, retail stores, banks and others — found that they expanded in September at their fastest monthly pace since 2005. That followed a survey of manufacturers, which found an equally strong gain. Factory activity expanded at the fastest pace in more than 13 years.

Harvey caused about $76 billion to $87 billion in economic losses, according to Moody's Analytics, an economic consulting firm. That would make Harvey the second-worst U.S. natural disaster, after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Irma will likely end up having caused $58 billion to $83 billion in economic losses. Those estimates include damage to homes and businesses as well as lost business and economic output.

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This story has been corrected to show that September's job losses figure was the first decline in nearly seven years.

Letter dated day before Titanic sank sells for $166,000

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 2:19 PM

The ill-fated White Star liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic.   (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
Central Press/Getty Images
The ill-fated White Star liner RMS Titanic, which struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage across the Atlantic. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)(Central Press/Getty Images)

The letter is addressed to “Mother.”

“We had good weather while we were in Loudon (sic). It is quite green and nice in England now. This boat is a giant in size and fitted up like a palacial (sic) hotel.” 

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It is one of the last remaining letters to survive the doomed ship Titanic, and it recently sold at auction for a 120,000 pounds ($166,000) -- a record-price for a correspondence from the liner. 

The missive, penned by first-class passenger Alexander Oskar Holverson on the liner’s embossed stationery, is dated April 13, 1912 -- the day before the Titanic sank.

Auctioneers Henry Aldridge & Son predicted the item would go for 60,000 to 80,000 pounds ($79,000 to $106,000), according to CNN. The identity of the buyer wasn't disclosed. Iron keys from the ship also sold for 76,000 pounds ($100,000).

“The prices illustrate the continuing interest in the Titanic and her passengers and crew,” auctioneer Andrew Aldridge told Reuters. “I‘m delighted with the new world record for the Titanic letter. It reflects its status as the most important Titanic letter we have ever auctioned.”

The letter was sold by the Holverson family.

Alexander Oskar Holverson was a salesman who was traveling on the ocean liner’s maiden voyage with his wife, Mary Alice, who survived the sinking. The letter was found on his body a few days after the ship sank April 14, 1912. More than 1,500 people died. 

The letter ends with this line:

“It all goes well we will arrive in New York Wednesday A.M.”

Hikers rescue dog who fell down mine shaft

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 12:51 PM

WATCH: Hikers Rescue Stranded Pup From Mine Shaft

Three hikers went on a journey into the woods of Colorado, and came out as heroes.

Portia Scovern and her boyfriend Preston Gladd were hiking in Park County, Colorado, when they heard sounds from a cave, The Summit Daily reported.

They thought it was a wild animal. 

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But when they returned a week later, Gladd, Scovern and Gladd’s roommate, Gannon Ingels, said they found out it wasn’t a wild animal, but rather a dog that had fallen to the bottom of a mine shaft, KXRM reported.

The fall was at least 20 feet, KMGH reported.

The dog, who they found out was named Cheyenne, was not hurt, but was a little underweight and dehydrated. She’s since been returned to his owner, all thanks to Facebook, The Summit Daily reported.

A dog named Cheyenne was rescued by hikers after being trapped in the bottom of a mine shaft for a week.(Photo courtesy: Portia Scovern)

The dog had been missing since Oct. 4 when he ran off and is believed to have been at the bottom of the mine for at least a week.

Alleged cop-killer smears feces on self in court, halting jury selection in murder trial

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2017 @ 1:24 PM

Alleged Police Killer Smears Himself With Feces In Court

A man accused of murdering a New Orleans police officer in 2015 halted jury selection in his trial Wednesday by smearing feces on his face, head and mouth, horrifying potential jurors and courtroom spectators. 

Travis Boys, 35, apparently put the feces, wrapped in tissue, in his pocket during a bathroom break earlier in the day, NOLA.com reported. He was seated at the defense table with his attorneys when he pulled the tissue out and silently rubbed the waste on himself. 

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Boys is charged with first-degree murder in the June 20, 2015, shooting death of Officer Daryle Holloway. The officer was transporting Boys to jail when Boys allegedly shot him inside his police SUV. 

Boys escaped custody and was at large for about 24 hours before being recaptured. If convicted, he faces life in prison. 

The Advocate reported that criminal defense lawyer David Belfield, who is Holloway’s uncle, witnessed the incident. Belfield said he believed Boys was trying to sway potential jurors. 

“It’s calculated, and it shows that he’s not insane, not crazy,” Belfield told the newspaper

Boys has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, the Advocate reported. District Court Judge Karen Herman ruled last month that Boys was competent to stand trial in Holloway’s slaying. 

After halting the proceedings Wednesday, however, Herman ordered that another competency hearing be held on Thursday. His attorneys have argued that Boys suffers from low IQ and mental health problems. 

Though Herman ruled him competent to stand trial, she is allowing the defense to present evidence of schizophrenia in Boys’ family, the Advocate said. 

The judge dismissed the panel of potential jurors who witnessed Boys’ actions on Wednesday. 

The Advocate reported that the odor of bleach clung to the air an hour after the incident. 

Alleged cop-killer who ate own feces in court ruled incompetent, to undergo mental exam

Published: Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 1:57 PM

Alleged Police Killer Smears Himself With Feces In Court

A judge ruled that a man accused of gunning down a New Orleans police officer in 2015 is incompetent to stand trial after the defendant halted jury selection last week by smearing feces over his face and head, eating some of it as court personnel and spectators choked and gagged. 

Orleans Parish District Judge Karen Herman handed down the ruling on Thursday, the day after Travis Boys pulled the excrement from his suit pocket, where he apparently stashed it earlier in the day. NOLA.com said Herman ordered Boys to undergo a psychiatric evaluation so doctors could determine if his actions were due to mental illness or if they were his way of delaying the trial. 

“Erring on the side of caution, I’m declaring Mr. Boys incompetent,” Herman said. “I don’t want to have to do (a trial) twice.”

The Advocate in Baton Rouge reported that Boys will be sent to the state mental hospital in Jackson for evaluation. He will have another competency hearing on Nov. 30. 

Prosecutors in the case filed an appeal, which they lost over the weekend. Both the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to reverse the ruling.

Herman also declined to reconsider her decision on Monday, when prosecutors introduced a recorded phone call Boys made to his girlfriend Thursday night, NOLA.com reported. Boys made the call from another inmate’s account in what prosecutors say was an attempt to hide the call from investigators.

Prosecutor Inga Petrovich wrote in a motion that in the recording, Boys is “clearly aware of the circumstances going on in his case (and) makes reference to when he will be released, as well as the possible inability to call his girlfriend once he goes to the hospital.”

NOLA.com reported that Herman said Monday that state law requires that all proceedings be halted following an incompetency ruling, including new motions like the one brought to her Monday by the state. The judge did say, however, that the recording of the phone call would be sent to the doctors evaluating Boys’ mental status. 

Other recordings of Boys’ jailhouse phone calls will also be handed to the team working on his case.

“I’m accepting the jail tapes as authentic and providing them to the malingering team,” Herman said, according to the news site. 

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Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro called Herman’s ruling “extremely disturbing” in a statement released last week following her decision. 

“I had hoped that this court was too intelligent to allow an accused cop-killer to hijack these proceedings, but I was incorrect,” Cannizzaro said in the statement, obtained by NOLA.com. “I fear that today’s decision will only encourage similarly situated defendants to engage in such misconduct in the future.”

Boys is charged with first-degree murder in the June 20, 2015, shooting death of Officer Daryle Holloway. The officer was transporting Boys to jail when Boys shot him inside his police SUV, the charges allege. 

Boys, who police say escaped custody and was at large for about 24 hours before being recaptured, faces life in prison if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.

Boys’ defense team previously argued that he was not competent to stand trial, but Herman ruled against them last month in a hearing that lasted about six hours, NOLA.com reported. His lawyers cited his low IQ scores, a family history of schizophrenia and a 2014 incident in which he jumped from a second-floor window, breaking his ankle, as signs of his mental incompetency. 

Billy Sothern, one of Boys’ defense attorneys, again argued on Thursday that his client is not competent to aid in his own defense. In his argument, he recounted the disturbing details of Boys’ actions in front of potential jurors.

“He was between us, less than a foot away from each of us,” Sothern said, according to NOLA.com. “I began to smell something, turned to my right to see Mr. Boys smearing feces on his face and hair, and eating feces from his fingers.”

Herman at that point saw what Boys was doing and cleared the courtroom, Sothern said. Boys continued to eat excrement off his hand and, when his lawyers tried to talk to him, he appeared “unable to focus on (them) or even appear to listen,” the lawyer said. 

Sothern said that Boys later told doctors he was told about what he did in court, but that he did not remember doing it, NOLA.com reported.

Witnesses for the prosecution on Thursday tried to show that Boys’ actions were part of a calculated plan to avoid prosecution. Dr. Rafael Salcedo, one of the doctors who previously observed Boys and declared him competent to stand trial, testified that he “absolutely” believed the incident was orchestrated to delay the trial, NOLA.com said.

Sheriff’s Office attorney Blake Arcuri testified that the plastic bag from which Boys pulled the feces appeared to be a bag from the jail commissary. Surveillance footage from the jail appeared to show that Boys filled the bag before he was taken to court that day. 

NOLA.com reported that Petrovich argued that Boys smuggled the feces into court and waited to pull it out of his pocket when he believed it would result in his trial being delayed. 

Herman said in her ruling that the defendant’s actions and the subsequent media coverage had likely tainted a potential jury. 

The judge said Thursday that Boys, if found competent by the doctors assigned to assess him, may have forfeited his right to sit in the courtroom during his murder trial.

“What happened yesterday will not happen (then),” Herman said.