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Positive News on Unemployment and Minimum Wage Laws

Workers starving for good news got a few morsels this week with positive reports on unemployment and pay.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says December’s unemployment rate was 7.8 percent, which was unchanged from the previous month. Employers added 155,000 jobs in December, which follows the monthly trend for the year, during which 1.84 million jobs were added.

The news is even better for people with a job: Pay went up 2 percent in December, and minimum wage workers in 10 states will earn anywhere from 10 to 35 cents more per hour in 2013.

Not surprisingly, reaction to the news varied. Alan Krueger, chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, found a positive angle.

“Today’s employment report provides further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing to heal from the wounds inflicted by the worst downturn since the Great Depression,” Kruger said in a statement published on the White House blog. “It is critical that we continue the policies that are building an economy that works for the middle class as we dig our way out of the deep hole that was caused by the severe recession that began in December 2007.”

Republicans Not Happy

House Speaker John Boehner, who was heavily criticized for his role in the fiscal cliff negotiations, didn’t see a bright side to the unemployment numbers.

“Too many Americans are still out of work, and Washington has too much debt,” Boehner said in a statement. “Our oversized and overspent federal government is a drag on economic growth and job creation. … In the coming months, the House will pass real spending cuts, meaningful reforms of the entitlement programs that are driving us deeper into debt, and a fairer, cleaner tax code. “

For the year, the unemployment rate averaged 8.1 percent, the lowest figure in four years. December’s 7.8 percent figure matched the lowest figure since January 2009.

The construction industry added 30,000 jobs, its largest gain in 15 months. Manufacturing added 25,000, its best gain in nine months. Other industries hiring were health care (55,000), restaurants (38,000) and professional services (19,000).

The best news from the report might be that all the gains came from private business.

Minimum Wage Up in 10 States

As for wages, about 1 million workers at the bottom end of payrolls will be getting a slight boost in Rhode Island, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington.

Rhode Island voted last summer to raise its minimum wage 35 cents to $7.75 an hour. The other nine states adjust the minimum wage annually to keep pace with inflation.

Minimum wages vary, sometimes dramatically, from state to state. Washington, which has been doing the annual adjustment since 1998, has the highest minimum wage in the nation, at $9.19. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

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