Big Jobs and Big Macs: Good Week for Workers, Consumers

The great American jobs machine keeps on humming.

Businesses created 339,000 jobs in February, the government said - the largest gain in nine months and about 100,000 more than expected. The unemployment rate fell from 5.4 to 5.3 percent.

The big winners?

Construction, for one, with a third of the job gains, thanks to a warm winter.

Regionally, Western states fared well, says John Mitchell, an economist at US Bank in Portland, Ore.

"Seattle is just booming," flying high on new jobs at Boeing and Intel, he says. Other top job gainers: Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona.

Another winner: President Clinton.

The news let him turn from fund-raising scandals. "Our nation has created almost ... 12 million (jobs) since January of 1992," he said Friday. "The economy is on the right track."

Last week brought plenty of evidence to back him up - a surge in new-home sales, a rise in consumer spending and a jump in the index of leading economic indicators, a forecaster of future activity.

In other business news this week:

*McMemories - McDonald's cleared the way for a Big Mac to cost 55 cents to celebrate 55 years in business, putting the fast-food business on the fast track to a price war.

*Great Western Financial Corp. of Los Angeles agreed to a $6.6 billion takeover by Washington Mutual Inc. of Seattle, deflecting a hostile bid by H.F. Ahmanson & Co., another Los Angeles thrift company.

*Facing a 10 percent airline ticket tax from Uncle Sam, Northwest, United, and Continental hiked fares 4 percent.

Looking ahead

More critical news on inflation. Friday, the government releases its gauge of inflation in February at the wholesale level, the producer price index.

Regional look. Wednesday, the Federal Reserve releases the Beige Book, with views of regional economies.

Retail and trade. Thursday, reports on retail sales for February, plus the current account for the fourth quarter, 1996.

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