The government released its latest jobs report Friday and the numbers boosted prospects of continued economic recovery.
According to the Labor Department, U.S. employers added 175,000 positions to their payrolls in May, indicating that businesses continue to hire at a modest but steady pace despite government spending cuts and tax increases.
The unemployment rate, however, ticked up one-tenth of a point to 7.6 percent. But, that was because more people began looking for work and the numbers suggest about 75 percent of them actually landed jobs.
The labor report was cheered on Wall Street where the Dow gained more than 200 points on the news.
The week began on a bullish note Monday, when the automobile industry reported U.S. consumers bought 1.4 million vehicles last month -- up 8 percent from last May. Much of the move was powered by trucks. And sales of full-size pickups increased 26 percent over last year.
Many of those trucks, of course, are working hard in rural America, where weeks of cool and wet weather have complicated life for growers. And -- in what’s beginning to sound like a broken record -- the big story in farm country yet again this week is Mother Nature.
Heavy rains in the Corn Belt are starting to cause major problems downstream. Areas still recovering from earlier spring flooding are back in the trenches again, hoping for drier conditions.
In the Missouri town of West Alton, a makeshift levee was breached early this week and now residents of the town of 570 are on high alert. West Alton was nearly swept away 20 years ago in the great flood of 1993.
Those who live in the community close to the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi River are preparing for the worst.
James Dickerson / West Alton Resident: "There's a culvert over here that's breached and it's coming in through the culvert, and they said don't be alarmed right now, but definitely be on standby.”
The community’s make-shift levee has officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers monitoring the area north of St. Louis closely.
Matt Cosby / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: "The entire levee system has water on it from the Mississippi side and the Missouri side, both of those areas are concerning. We never want water on a levee. That's why they're there.”
At least four locks were closed this week because of the high water, but recent rains have offered some relief from the most arid conditions in half a century.
The latest Drought Monitor from the University of Nebraska reveals nearly 55 percent of the contiguous United States is in one of five stages of drought. That’s the lowest level in almost 17 months.
As the rain falls in portions of the Grain Belt, crop progress continues to lag.
USDA’s weekly report indicates corn planting is 91 percent complete, trailing the 5-year average by four percentage points. The condition of the emerged corn is 93 percent in the fair to excellent categories.
Soybeans are significantly further behind schedule. USDA pegs 57 percent of the crop is planted, well off the average pace of 74 percent.
Spring wheat planting also is behind schedule. 80 percent of the fields have been sown, 12 percentage points below the 5-year average. Winter wheat, however, is showing the effects of previously dry conditions, and 68 percent of the U.S. crop is rated fair to very poor.