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Challenge: Put jobless back to work

Another sign of economic recovery is that of the recent Christmas season's affect on retailers. While firm figures won't be in for awhile, it seems that consumers shopped more than they did the past three years, before the Great Recession.

East Coast retailers were put off by last weekend's snow storm, but they have been active ever since with post-Christmas returns and sales, and hope that continues through this weekend. The two days after Christmas accounted for about $10 billion in sales, down about 10 percent because of the snow, according to ShopperTrak.

Despite the weather, ShopperTrak in mid-December issued its prediction that the holiday season will see an increase in retailer sales by 4 percent, and traffic up 1.8 percent.

The rise in retail sales follows earlier estimates that manufacturing production is also up. They are signals that the economy is beginning to turn around and that the United States is trending upward.

Still disappointing and an aberration to the economic stats is that workers remain unemployed. The unemployment rate of 9.8 percent is not expected to take any quick downturns anytime soon. In fact, it will probably still be above 9 percent at year's end 2011.

What does that say?

Apparently, business owners are still fearful of a second downturn in the economy and are not yet ready to add staff. They are making do with what they've got, paying the overtime rather than adding new workers.

And that is not good for the government, either, as Congress just extended jobless benefits again for some 2 million unemployed workers, adding to the federal deficit.

The job for the Obama administration and Congress is to find a way to alleviate those fears and get business hiring again. Will tax cuts do it? Not if they continue to add to the federal deficit. Will more stimulus spending do it? Again, not if it adds to the federal deficit.

Perhaps the key step is framing a federal budget that cuts spending and figures out how to make a dent in the deficit. Only then may businesses regain their confidence to hire workers and expand markets, along with the banks loosening credit.

But a positive holiday season is a good start to boost the economy thus far.

-- Bemidji Pioneer