Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. U.S. employers eased their layoffs in July, pushing the nation's unemployment rate down for the first time in 15 months -- sending another strong signal that the worst recession since World War II is finally drawing to a close.
According to the Labor Department, 247,000 jobs were trimmed from U.S. payrolls last month. That's the fewest cuts in a year and about half of June's decline. The reduction pushed the unemployment rate to 9.4 percent from 9.5 percent in June.
The new figures were better than many analysts expected, and the announcement fueled a 113 point rally in the Dow Jones Industrials Index on Friday.
Despite improving conditions, analysts caution it will take months, if not years, of job GROWTH for the labor market to fully recover. But in this economy any improvement is welcome news.
One area of rural America where conditions are NOT improving is southern Texas. But the culprit in the "Lone Star State" isn't unemployment -- it's "Mother Nature." A
As the Texas sun continues to weigh heavily on the state's farmers and ranchers, an ongoing drought is devastating crops and livestock. Recent reports by Texas Agrilife Extension Services peg current crop and livestock losses at more than $3.6 billion. Experts predict the figure could exceed $4 billion in the coming months.
Dr. Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Services: "Parts of central and south Texas, Gulf Coast, East Texas are extremely dry...parts of West Texas and North Texas have plenty of moisture. It's a case of haves and have nots."
The "Lone Star State" is the nation's top producer of cotton and cattle – two agricultural commodities under severe pressure from extended drought conditions. In fact, much of the south Texas cotton crop failed to even germinate due to arid conditions last spring.
Dr. Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Services: "We grow some corn and soybeans but those are minor losses compared to cotton. We've emptied a lot of ranches of cattle. We've culled and culled again at a lot of these ranches."
Cattle losses could reverberate throughout commodity markets and the greater economy for years to come. But short term affects could be positive for consumers.
Dr. Carl Anderson, Texas AgriLife Extension Services: "It increases the supply of beef in the short run but give it a couple of years and it will greatly contribute to the reduction of beef production in the United States. We're going to enjoy eating steaks now because later on you might have to pay a lot more for them."
Economic troubles in rural Texas stem largely from lingering dry conditions and consistently high temperatures across much of the state. At the National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Nebraska, researchers compile a weekly analysis of moisture and drought conditions across the United States.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, sections of south Texas are currently suffering the most arid conditions in the entire nation. This week, more than 61 percent of the nation's most drought-stricken state is under some form of drought.
While much of the state bears the brunt of dry weather, counties in southern Texas have been predominately affected by some of the most arid conditions in 50 years.
In the 1950's, a prolonged Texas drought sapped water supplies for more than six years. Millions of acres were lost and wildlife habitat was decimated. Current drought conditions are already in their second year and at least one Texas Extension specialist believes some aspects are worse than the 1950's.
Dr. Carl Anderson, Texas AgriLife Extension Services: "I was a young man in the 1950's when we had a drought that lasted at least 6 years, maybe 7 years, and it was a statewide drought. This drought, in my opinion, is more intense in the places with the worst conditions then they were in the 1950's."
While historical comparisons may help researchers and farmers determine when and if conditions improve, future climate models could offer a glimmer of hope.
Dr. Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Extension Services: "We have the climatological models predicting a softening of this drought this fall. The lining pattern that typically brings drought conditions to Texas is weakening. Signs tell us it may happen but I'm not going to put money on that one."