economy

A new era in Saudi Arabia was demonstrated at gas stations across the country on Monday night: Long lines of cars stretched from the pumps as drivers filled up to beat price hikes announced by the government earlier in the day.

It was an unusual scene for the world's largest oil producer, but it underscored the economic impact of dramatically lower crude prices on a government budget that relies on it.

The swift deadline to chop government subsidies on gas, water and electricity surprised Saudis, and some stations ran out of gas and shut down in the storm of demand.

Canadian dollar, or 'loonie'
Flickr Photo/Jackman Chiu (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1ZpVqsL

David Hyde speaks with Vancouver Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer about the continued fall of the Canadian dollar. Palmer also gives an update on plans for a sewage treatment plant in Victoria, B.C.

Gas prices are under $2 a gallon across much of the country. That's because crude oil has plummeted to the lowest price in nearly a decade.

The average U.S. household has saved an estimated $700 this year because of lower gas prices. And drivers can expect more savings in 2016.

Recently, Sharlene Brown was filling up her minivan at a Philadelphia gas station. When prices are down, Brown says, she drives more.

"It changes where I go, who I pick up because a lot of times I pick up and do errands for the church," she says.

Every investor celebrating Christmas this week would love this gift: a really good crystal ball.

It'd be so helpful to look right through the orbuculum and glimpse the future prices of stocks, bonds and gold bars.

Unfortunately, no such ball exists. Our next best option is to turn to economic forecasters. And in general, the professionals see mostly good news for 2016.

Americans have long lived in a nation made up primarily of middle-class families, neither rich nor poor, but comfortable enough.

This year, that changed, according to the Pew Research Center.

No question, this was a traumatic, sad week because of the mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. It's not easy to turn to good news.

But putting grief aside for a moment, there were indeed positive developments for the country in recent days. With cheaper energy, more jobs and higher stock prices, most Americans have been seeing their financial situations improve. Here are some of this week's highlights:

Professor Robert Reich at Town Hall Seattle on Oct. 19, 2015.
Flickr Photo/Al Garman (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/http://bit.ly/1TeSMCu

Robert Reich says he’s often stopped by strangers at airports. People walk right up to him, forego any niceties, and get straight to the question: “What are we going to do?”

Reich says that makes him optimistic, because it’s not just liberals asking.

When you drive the new expressway to the airport in the Chinese city of Luliang, you are as likely to come across a stray dog as another vehicle. When I recently drove it, a farmer was riding in a three-wheel flatbed truck and heading in the wrong direction. But it didn't matter. There was no oncoming traffic.

Taking on Wall Street makes for good politics in the Democratic Party. And several of the candidates at Tuesday night's debate had tough words about big banks. That was particularly true of former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Although he didn't say so directly, O'Malley suggested several times that consolidation in the banking business was a big factor in the 2008 financial crash and that the U.S. economy remains vulnerable because of it.

People form a greeting line as Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife step out of a Boeing 747 at Everett's Paine Field.
KUOW Photo/Carolyn Adolph

Ross Reynolds speaks with Seattle Times economics columnist Jon Talton about Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit.

Many workers' prospects have improved as the unemployment rate has slipped down to 5.1 percent. But not all are seeing better days in the economic recovery. Recent studies show most jobs are going to workers either in the top third or the bottom third of income.

A study by Georgetown University found that middle-wage jobs haven't fully recovered from the Great Recession. They represent nearly a third of the jobs gained in the recovery but are still 900,000 jobs short of pre-recession levels, the study said.

Updated at 9:50 a.m. ET

The Labor Department says the U.S. economy added 173,000 jobs in August, a figure that fell short of expectations but nonetheless appeared to shrug off turmoil in overseas markets, particularly China.

In a separate survey, the department's Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate had dipped to 5.1 percent — a seven-year low.

People apply for jobs at Coca-Cola at a jobs fair hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus in Miami, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2011.
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Blacks – especially black women – working in the public sector were disproportionately laid off during the recession, according to a new study by the University of Washington.

The study is being presented this week at a conference of the American Sociological Association. It found that white workers appear to have been better protected from financial shocks to government budgets.

Student loans have become an issue in the presidential campaign, especially on the Democratic side. And it's no wonder. There are more than 40 million Americans with some $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.

But people who study education finance say one widely popular proposal to help lessen the debt load may not be as good as it seems.

The first problem: the debt load

Microsoft sign on the company's Redmond, Washington campus.
Flickr Photo/Wonderlane (CC-BY-NC-ND)/http://bit.ly/1NM853Z

Former and current employees are getting a letter from Microsoft this week.

It says no more Microsoft stock will be bought for the company’s 401k plan. The question is why.

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