U.S. economy continues to underperform

February's job creation figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics Friday underline the continuing pathetic state of the American job market.

New jobs for the month numbered a middling 175,000, but the three-month average including January and normally vigorous December activity was a pale 121,000. The unemployment rate was 6.7 percent, masking a 203,000-person increase in long-term joblessness among Americans, a number now standing at 3.8 million. Wild-eyed optimists, perhaps seeking to jack up the stock market, proposed that the February figure would have been higher if the weather had been better in part of the country.

It is clear that drastic action needs to be taken if the situation of high unemployment, lowering quality of jobs and low, stagnant pay is no longer to persist in an economy that has been in recession since 2008.

President Barack Obama's cheerleading on the subject, or Democratic efforts to blame it on the Republicans, or vice versa, should be of no satisfaction to Americans. Whether the Federal Reserve Bank continues to hand lollipops or tapers them, in the form of quantitative easing to America's banks to fatten their uninvested reserves or to increase the bonuses they pay the rich people who run them is also of no major interest to Americans who want to work, or who want to be paid a living wage for the work they do.

These latest job figures support a contention that serious action needs to be taken by federal and state leaders and legislatures to tackle the problem. The fact that many of them will be busy this year pursuing money from the non-job-creators to finance their reelections serves as a clear message to taxpayers to turn them out of office in the primaries and in November, based on their far-inadequate performance in the face of an employment crisis.

—The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, March 11

 

Planned regulations on e-cigarettes are overdue

Could someone please send the Food and Drug Administration a copy of the latest study on teenagers and e-cigarettes? The agency obviously needs a push to come out with its overdue regulations.

Drawn from two surveys of tens of thousands of American middle-school and high-school students, the research found that adolescents who tried battery-powered nicotine vaporizers were more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes. And if the kids were already regular smokers at the time they experimented with "vaping," they became less likely to quit. It's evidence, as the authors say, that e-cigarettes are "aggravating rather than ameliorating the tobacco epidemic among youths."

This comes as no surprise, because while hardened adult smokers might find that e-cigarettes help them quit the un- prefixed kind, teenagers are more likely to try vaping before they try smoking.

Yet the FDA has still not begun to regulate e-cigarettes, despite pledging to do so by last fall. Some states and cities — including, just this week, Los Angeles — have already started to impose regulations. Meanwhile, the number of vapers keeps rising; U.S. consumers will spend $3 billion on e-cigarettes this year, twice last year's total.

Last month, the European Parliament passed a list of e-cigarette restrictions, including a ban on advertisements, a requirement for childproof packaging with pictorial safety warnings, and a limit on nicotine content. Those are all smart rules, as is a ban on sales to minors and restrictions on candy flavors that are meant to appeal to kids.

More research is still needed to discern the specific health hazards of electronic cigarettes, as well as their relative safety compared with burning tobacco. Yet it's not too soon to conclude that regulation is needed to keep them out of the hands of children.

—Bloomberg News, March 14