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News Wrap: U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs despite February’s harsh winter weather

March 7, 2014 at 6:02 PM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: The bitter cold that’s gripped much of the nation and hit some economic sectors hard apparently didn’t have a huge impact on jobs. Today’s Labor Department numbers for February exceeded economists’ expectations. Employers added 175,000 jobs last month. And the unemployment rate rose slightly to 6.7 percent, because more people were trying to find work.

But for stocks on Wall Street, it was a day of fluctuation, with the job news sending them up, and uncertainty over Ukraine sending them down. In the end, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 30 points to close above 16,452. The Nasdaq fell nearly 16 points to close at 4,336. The S&P 500 rose a point to close at 1,878. For the week, the Dow and Nasdaq gained more than a 1.5 percent; the S&P 500 was up nearly 2 percent.

For a closer look at today’s jobs numbers, I am joined by Diane Swonk, senior managing director and chief economist for Mesirow Financial.

Diane, welcome back to the NewsHour.

So, despite the miserable weather, job creation was up. How do you explain it?

DIANE SWONK, Mesirow Financial: Well, actually, February is the beginning of a hiring spree for most firms. Seasonally, it’s when we tend to have a big upswing. Even during the height of the crisis in 2009, February had the least losses during that month.

So, it is the time when we start hiring up, particularly in the education sector. And this is something encouraging, because we have seen draconian cuts of teachers during the last several years, as state and local governments tried to balance their budgets.

Finally, we did see teachers come back, in fact, in this month, and that’s very good, because it does mean that balance sheets are healing at the state and local level. We also saw a real imprint of the weather, though, on the composition of job growth. I call it the migration and hibernation.

We saw department stores actually lay people off because people were not walking through the malls and were not going out. It was really cold here, and I know in Washington as well, and people just hibernated. On the other side of it, those who could migrated. They went to resorts, ski resorts, sunny locations. And, sure enough, employment in leisure and hospitality increased.

So, you really did see the imprint of the weather even on the composition of those job gains. And we also were able to beat, despite the weather, that sort of seasonal upswing. It does suggest that we still have an underlying trend of healing in the U.S. economy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Diane, you — what you’re saying — what you’re saying is that the job creation appears that it’s going to continue?

DIANE SWONK: I think we are going to see job creation continue. Of course, another big storm is predicted for the survey week in March of next week, so we’re going to still see displacement here.

What we’re seeing from the weather is it deferred, displaced and, actually, because it destroyed some things, is creating economic activity on the road. A lot of potholes have got to be filled in the Midwest. A lot of tires got blown out. And, in fact, pent-up demand is really strong now for things like vehicles that are very old and many of them just plain died in this weather because of the cold.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Diane Swonk with Mesirow Financial, we thank you.

DIANE SWONK: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other news, Russia’s government threw its support behind the upcoming referendum in Crimea, where voters are due to decide whether to break with Ukraine and join Russia.

Meanwhile, on the ground in Ukraine, there were reports a military base in Crimea was sieged by Russians.

Jeffrey Brown has more on the day’s developments.

JEFFREY BROWN: The sign reads in Cyrillic, “Crimea, Russian land,” and tens of thousands of Russians flooded Red Square for a government-sanctioned rally to urge the Crimeans to join Russia.

MAN (through interpreter): It is our land. Our grandfathers and grand-grandfathers shed their blood there. Crimea should be part of Russia.

JEFFREY BROWN: The Crimean Parliament has set a March 16 up-or-down vote on leaving Ukraine to become part of Russia. Late today, the Associated Press reported that a Ukrainian military post in Crimea was under siege by Russians, but no shots were fired.

And, today, leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said that they would welcome Crimea becoming Russian.

Valentina Matvienko is speaker of Russia’s Upper House.

VALENTINA MATVIENKO, Speaker of Upper House, Russia (through interpreter): If the people of Crimea express their will at the referendum and make a decision to join Russia, we, as the Upper House of Parliament, will, of course, support such a decision.

JEFFREY BROWN: But the interim government in Kiev, the United States and the European Union have all denounced the vote as illegal.

President Obama reinforced that message in an hour-long call last night with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry. In a bluntly-worded statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry said that Lavrov — quote — “warned against hasty and reckless steps capable of causing harm to Russian-American relations, particular sanctions, which would inevitably hit the United States like a boomerang.”

But, speaking in Dublin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated that sanctions would be levied.

ANGELA MERKEL, Chancellor, Germany (through interpreter): We said very clearly what sort of sanctions were to be adopted. If there were further attacks on Ukraine and its territorial integrity, then we will respond with a broad range of measures.

JEFFREY BROWN: After meeting with European leaders in Brussels, the Ukrainian prime minister urged Russia again to leave Crimea.

ARSENIY YATSENYUK, Prime Minister, Ukraine (through interpreter): In order for our Russian neighbors to become our partners, they, first of all, have to withdraw their troops. They have to abide by bilateral and multilateral agreements which Russia has signed.

JEFFREY BROWN: One vital agreement with Russia involves fuel supply, and, today, Russia’s state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, said it may suspend its supply to Ukraine, after it failed to pay for February deliveries. For now, it will continue transit shipments to Europe.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A Congolese rebel leader was convicted today of murder and pillage. Germain Katanga appeared before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for his role in the 2003 massacre of more than 200 villagers in Eastern Congo. Katanga was cleared of committing sexual crimes and using child soldiers. It was only the second conviction made in the court’s 12-year history.

A new study found malaria moves to higher elevations during warmer years, and creeps back down when temperatures cool. The findings were published in “Science” magazine, and analyzed data from Ethiopia and Colombia. Researchers from the U.S. and Britain said it was the first hard evidence of a link between climate change and malaria. And it could lead to a significant increase in places where people are more vulnerable. Malaria currently infects about 220 million people a year.

The Kansas Supreme Court ruled today that the state’s current levels of public school funding are unconstitutional. It said that poor school districts in Kansas were hurt when the state decided to cut payments because of falling tax revenue during the recession. The justices said the state had failed to provide equity in education. It sent the case back to a lower court to determine what the new funding should be.

The generation of Americans known as millennials are more likely to lean to the left when it comes to politics, even though they describe themselves mostly as independent. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that half of all adults aged 18 to 33 are Democrats or lean Democratic, the highest share for any age group in the last decade. The survey also found more young adults remain single, and are less religious than previous generations at this stage of their lives.