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News Wrap: Nearly Half of Americans in Poverty or Low-Income, Census Says

December 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM EST
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HARI SREENIVASAN: A new look at U.S. census data painted a stark picture today of poverty. It showed nearly one in two Americans are now in poverty or classified as low-income. The Associated Press said that is more than 146 million people, up four million from 2009. The increase is due partly to pay cuts, reduced work hours and loss of jobs.

The stock market managed a rally today, after word that new claims for unemployment benefits are falling. The Labor Department reported last week’s total was the lowest since May of 2008. In response, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 45 points to close above 11,868. The Nasdaq rose more than a point to close at 2,541.

Also today, Morgan Stanley announced it is eliminating 1,600 jobs in the first quarter of next year to cut costs. The other major Wall Street banks have announced similar steps.

The war in Iraq officially ended today after nearly nine years. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta attended a low-key ceremony at the Baghdad Airport. He saluted what he called the remarkable progress U.S. forces made in Iraq.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: You will leave with great pride, lasting pride, secure in knowing that your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people begin a new chapter in history.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The two governments were unable to reach a deal allowing a small U.S. force to remain. So, the remaining 4,000 American troops will leave by year’s end. In all, nearly 4,500 Americans were killed in the Iraq war. It is estimated that more than 100,000 Iraqis were killed.

The U.S. Senate has approved more money for war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was part of a defense bill totaling more than $660 billion. The measure also requires the military to take custody of foreign terror suspects linked to al-Qaida. Some suspects might be denied the right to trial or held indefinitely. The House approved the bill last night.

The Justice Department accused Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio today of a long list of civil rights violations against Latinos. They included racial profiling, unlawful arrests, and illegally striking back at critics. Arpaio has gained a national reputation for tough tactics, but has denied mistreating Latinos. This evening, his spokesman called the allegations a witch-hunt. The sheriff now has to take corrective action, or face a federal lawsuit.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin insisted today that last week’s parliamentary elections were valid. He appeared on a nationally televised call-in show for four-and-a-half-hours. He said those claiming vote fraud are simply tools of the West, and he insisted that his party played fair.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian prime minister (through translator): I have already talked about this before in public, but, in my opinion, the results of these elections unconditionally reflect the real balance of power in the country. And the fact that the ruling party, United Russia, lost some ground is not unusual either.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Putin is running to return to the Russian presidency next March.

Republicans hoping to challenge President Obama next year face their final debate tonight before the Iowa caucuses. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged into the lead ahead of the Jan. 3 voting.

Gingrich told Iowa Public Television today that voters are looking beyond his past marital infidelity and ethical problems.

NEWT GINGRICH, (R) presidential candidate: I have tried to answer questions in a very candid way. And I think that’s part of it, is that people accept the sincerity of my willingness to talk with them about my life and to talk to them about where I am today and what I would try to accomplish.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Fellow Republicans Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and others have stepped up their criticism of Gingrich as unreliable on a number of levels.

The use of chimpanzees in U.S. medical research may be coming to an end. The Institute of Medicine recommended today that most experiments involving chimps can no longer be justified. Instead, it said such research should be a last resort. The institute is an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.