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State of union in 2016: Strong job market, middling economy

FILE – In this Jan. 20, 2015, file photo, President Barack Obama waves before giving his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. Obama will deliver his final State of the Union address Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, to a nation with a burgeoning job market, flat wages and two things that to the president’s dismay are rising: global temperatures and Americans’ concerns about terrorism. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama delivers his final State of the Union address on Tuesday night to a nation whose economy is far sturdier than it was when he took office in 2009.

Yet as 2016 begins, the stout job market is accompanied by tepid economic growth and stubbornly flat wages. More broadly, two things are on the rise, to the president’s dismay: global temperatures and Americans’ concerns about terrorism.

A snapshot of the country:

THE BIG PICTURE

Friday’s December jobs report capped a strong year in which employers added 2.65 million positions. That made 2015 the second best year since 1999 for job gains, exceeded only in 2014.

For a third straight month, the unemployment rate was 5 percent. That’s the lowest three-month dip in eight years and half the 10 percent joblessness registered in October 2009, as the country began climbing out of the recession.

But average hourly pay seems stuck, sliding one cent last month to $25.24. That left the growth of average pay at 2.5 percent last year, below the 3.5 percent economists consider healthy.

The latest figures show the overall economy growing at a modest 2 percent annual rate in last year’s July to September quarter, though analysts expect improvement.

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THE ECONOMY, FROM OTHER ANGLES

For Wall Street, 2015 was a roller coaster. Record highs in spring were followed by an abrupt summertime swoon, prompted by worries about the strong dollar’s impact on exports, China’s slowing economy and sagging oil prices.

By year’s end, the Dow Jones industrial average had faded by 2.2 percent, its first down year since 2008. And it began 2016 with steep declines fueled by continued China worries.

Through November, the most recent figure, inflation grew by 0.4 percent for the past 12 months. That minuscule rise was well below the annual 2 percent increase the Federal Reserve prefers.

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CONSUMER BONUSES

Oil prices slumped to their lowest levels since 2004. That meant bargains at the pump, where last week’s U.S. average for a gallon of regular gasoline was $2.03, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

That was down slightly from a year earlier. A typical household saved $660 on its gasoline costs compared with 2014, the agency said.

Though the Federal Reserve raised a key interest rate for the first time in seven years, homebuyers’ mortgage interest rates remained at a relatively low 3.97 percent last week. That’s up slightly from a year earlier but well south of the historic 6 percent average.

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HEALTH CARE

The administration says that…

TennesseeWatchman.com

 if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
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