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economy

When President Obama first took the oath of office seven years ago this month, the U.S. economy was so battered that many economists were pondering the possibility of another Great Depression.

The fears were real: Employers were cutting 796,000 jobs; the auto industry was facing bankruptcy; private foreclosures and public debts were soaring.

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.

Michael McCabe knows what it's like to be surrounded by zombies.

Zombie houses, that is.

McCabe still lives in the neighborhood where he grew up, Woodbury Heights, N.J., a middle-class suburb of Philadelphia. He knows which houses are in foreclosure and which have been abandoned. The latest seems to be right behind his own.

For the second-straight day, China has allowed its currency to take a sharp drop, sparking another round of falling stock prices internationally. The decision to devalue the yuan has shaken investors who fear a currency war and question the health of China's economy, the second-largest in the world.

A wave of wage increases in cities across the country, as well as at several major businesses, continued on Wednesday.

Ann Dornfeld / KUOW

Nearly 2,000 Seattle young people have jobs this summer as part of the city's Youth Employment Initiative, Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday.

Murray said the program has more than doubled in size from last year -- but still there were nearly twice as many applications as there were internships. The goal is to expand the program into the school year to meet the demand.

Theo Polizos, right, prepares bougatsa at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Seattle.
Seattle Globalist Photo/Venice Buhain

As Theo Polizos and about a half dozen other women at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church on Capitol Hill prepared dozens of trays of bougatsa last week for the parish’s upcoming Greek Festival, their families in Greece were not far from their minds.

USA flag, China flag
Flickr Photo/USDA (CC BY 2.0)

David Hyde speaks with Jon Talton, economics columnist for the Seattle Times, about the recent volatility in the Chinese stock markets and what that means for Washington state. 

The Greek word for no is oxi, and across Athens and the Greek Islands on Sunday, it was everywhere: on posters, spray-painted on walls and old cars.

And it was also on ballots: Greek voters voted oxi Sunday in a historic referendum over the country's economic future.

There's a serious problem in the American economy: Big corporations are doing well, but real household income for average Americans has been falling over the past decade — down 9 percent, according to census data.

"That's not good for America," says Harvard economist Michael Porter. "That's not good for America's standard of living. That's not good for our ultimate vitality as a nation."

File photo of the Port of Seattle.
Courtesy of the Port of Seattle

Marcie Sillman talks to Mark Szakonyi, executive editor at the Journal of Commerce, about the Northwest Seaport Alliance, a management agreement between the Port of Seattle and Tacoma that is expected to be approved by August.  

A container ship at the Port of Seattle.
Flickr Photo/Bari Bookout (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Ross Reynolds speaks with economics reporter Jon Talton about climate change's affect the economy of the Pacific Northwest.

According to the monthly update released Wednesday by Washington's Employment Security Department, the state’s unemployment rate stayed flat in February.

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang

Researchers from the University of Washington and the state are hoping cold, hard data can help settle the heated debate over the costs and benefits of raising the minimum wage in Seattle.

What happens when the price of oil tanks and suddenly you're faced with a whole lot less money to deal with your town's explosive growth?

If you're 52-year-old Rick Norby, you lose a lot of sleep.

"I haven't slept since I became mayor," he says. "I really ain't kidding you."

When Norby became mayor of Sidney, Mont., oil prices were about $100 a barrel. A year later, they've fallen to roughly half that. Yet oil production has continued to churn right along.

The U.S. economy added 295,000 jobs last month, according to the Labor Department's monthly survey, and the unemployment rate dropped to 5.5 percent. The latest strong data beat expectations and follow a robust jump the previous month — a sign that the nation's economy is finally picking up steam.

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