Jobless benefits number rises
WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits rose 16,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 326,000. Despite the increase, the number remains close to pre-recession levels and points to stable hiring. The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, inched up 250 to 319,500.
Service companies report boost
WASHINGTON — U.S. service firms expanded more quickly last month as new orders rose and hiring increased, a positive sign the economy is rebounding after an unusually cold winter. The Institute for Supply Management said Thursday that its service-sector index rose to 53.1 in March from 51.6 in February. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. The increase was driven by a big jump in a measure of hiring, which rose 6.1 points to 53.4. That reversed most of a nine-point plunge in February that was mostly blamed on the weather. The increase is a hopeful sign just before the government’s employment report for March, to be released Friday. A gauge of new orders increased 2.1 points to 53.4. Many companies that responded to the survey said that weather still weighed on their business, particularly earlier in the month.
Fed member plans to resign
WASHINGTON — Jeremy Stein, a member of the Federal Reserve Board, announced Thursday he plans to resign next month to return to Harvard University, creating more turnover on the seven-member board. In a letter to President Barack Obama, Stein said that he will resign effective May 28 and return to Harvard, where he had been an economics professor beginning in 2000. Stein had been on the Fed board since 2012. There had been speculation that he might leave given that he was facing a May deadline to decide whether to return to his tenured Harvard teaching post.
Site was meant to infiltrate Cuba
WASHINGTON — The U.S. government masterminded the creation of a “Cuban Twitter” — a communications network designed to undermine the communist government in Cuba, built with secret shell companies and financed through foreign banks, The Associated Press has learned. The project, which lasted more than two years and drew tens of thousands of subscribers, sought to evade Cuba’s stranglehold on the Internet with a primitive social media platform. First, the network would build a Cuban audience, mostly young people; then, the plan was to push them toward dissent. Its users were neither aware it was created by a U.S. agency with ties to the State Department, nor that American contractors were gathering personal data about them.