Unemployment Rate Falls to 8.9 Percent, Employers Add 192k Jobs

BY News Desk  March 4, 2011 at 8:48 AM EDT

Unemployment unexpectedly reached its lowest level since April 2009, dipping to 8.9 percent in February, according to new numbers released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers added 192,000 new jobs, a gain largely attributed to more favorable weather and gains in the economy overall. The biggest gains were in construction, manufacturing and temporary employment, while government payrolls on the state and local levels fell.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had testified this week that there was reason for “optimism” about the labor market, due in part to increased consumer spending and firms’ plans to hire more workers. The Federal Reserve has cautioned that it will take time for the economy to recoup the estimated 8.75 million jobs lost during the economic decline of 2008 and 2009.

The figure means some 14 million job seekers still cannot find work. The report also showed that 44 percent of those looking for a job had been unemployed for six or more months.

Thousands Attend Funeral of Slain Pakistani Minister

Under tight security, thousands of mourners attended the funeral of slain Pakistani minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti, who was killed by Taliban elements Wednesday for objecting to Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. Bhatti was the only Christian member of the Cabinet and had been tasked The late Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti prays for slain Punjab Governor Salman Taseer at the Fatima Church in Islamabad on Jan. 9, 2011. Photo by Farooq Naeem/AFP/Getty Images. with advocating the interests of the country’s minority populations. The moderate governor of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who also opposed the law, was shot to death in January by a bodyguard.

“People like him, they are very rare,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told mourners in Islamabad. Minority groups had lost a “great leader,” he added.

Clinton: Former FBI Agent Still Alive

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a statement that a former FBI agent who disappeared in Iran in 2007 is still alive, though the circumstances surrounding his disappearance remain mysterious. Clinton said she believes Robert Levinson, 63, a retiree who vanished while at a resort on the island of Kish in Iran, is “somewhere in southwest Asia,” and called on the government of Iran to assist in his return.

Levinson was working as a private detective, and family members said he was in Iran to investigate a smuggling case. In the weeks following his disappearance, Iranian state television claimed he was being held by government forces.

Witnesses Say Two Protesters Killed in Yemen

Witnesses claim security forces opened fire Friday, killing two protesters in northern Yemen. In contrast to the protests taking place in the capital, Sanaa, the protesters in Harf Sufyan were mostly Houthi rebels, according the group’s spokesman. The Shiite Houthis have been in rebellion since 2004; the rest of Yemen is largely composed of Sunnis.

Thousands are still calling on President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down at the campus of Sanaa University. The government of Yemen has claimed it is open to dialogue with protesters, but opposition leaders have largely rejected any negotiations with the government.