John Ydstie

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Today, new evidence that the pace of job growth is picking up. The government's employment report for December showed 200,000 jobs added to payrolls. The unemployment rate continued its downward trend falling to 8.5 percent.

And while that may be welcome news, as NPR's John Ydstie explains, the December report could be overstating job growth.

It may be hard to remember, but 2011 began with a bang on the jobs front. The White House seemed ready to break out the champagne when February's job growth report came out showing unemployment at the lowest in nearly two years.

But that celebratory mood didn't last long.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is going after former top executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac for allegedly committing securities fraud.

The mortgage giants had to be taken over by the government in 2008 and then propped up by taxpayers. The SEC says the officials misled investors about the firm's exposure to subprime mortgages

Millions of Americans wake up each morning without a job, even though they desperately want to work. It's one of the depressing legacies of the financial crisis and Great Recession.

NPR and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a poll of people who had been unemployed or with an insufficient level of work for more than a year. The results document the financial, emotional and physical effects of long-term unemployment and underemployment.

The U.S. unemployment rate took a big tumble in November, from 9 percent to 8.6 percent, according to the government's monthly jobs data. Still, it's probably too soon to pop the champagne corks. A combination of forces caused the big drop, some good and some bad.

Getting a big fall in the unemployment rate is always good news in the White House, but President Obama was careful not to gloat at an appearance Friday in Washington.

"This morning we learned that our economy added another 140,000 private sector jobs in November. The unemployment rate went down," he said.

Next week, leaders of the euro area countries will gather in Brussels in an effort to take a bigger step toward ending the region's sovereign debt crisis. They hope that by agreeing to tougher penalties for countries that break the euro area's budget rules, they can entice the European Central Bank to do more to stem the crisis.

But the question is whether the eurozone countries are willing to give up control of their budgets.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's business news begins with a surprising move by central banks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The Federal Reserve took action this morning, along with the major central banks in Europe and Japan, to ease credit for commercial banks. This is an effort to free up funding for European banks battered by the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis. NPR's John Ydstie reports.

In rural India, deep in Punjab — about 90 minutes from the Pakistani border — getting clean drinking water is a challenge. Well water often has high levels of dangerous chemicals. Surface water is contaminated with pesticides and agricultural waste.

Getting adequate health care is equally challenging. Government hospitals are often far away, and lines are long.

Here, in places like a dusty rural town called Rajiana, a 2-year-old company called Healthpoint Services is trying to figure out how to bring clean water and health care to rural communities on a global scale.

At an Aravind hospital in Madurai, a city on India's southern tip, the waiting room is packed. A clinical assistant calls out the names of patients, and they're escorted to examination rooms. This hospital alone screens around 2,000 patients a day — and tour guide Shawas Philip says this day is busier than usual.

"We might break that record today — of the number of patients that are seen on a particular day. That's exciting," he says.

With Wednesday's deadline looming, the congressional supercommittee still seems far from an agreement, causing concern that failure could send financial markets into a spiral.

The bipartisan panel, charged with finding budget cuts or new revenues to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, is a child of the summer's debt-ceiling debate. It was an escape hatch for Congress and the president when they couldn't reach agreement on big deficit-reduction measures. That game of chicken helped to send the stock market sliding.

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