The personal savings rate for Americans was a negative 1 percent in 2006, the lowest level since the Great Depression, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Consumer spending, however, continues to bolster the economy based on data that indicate personal consumption expenditures rose 0.7 percent in December, the best showing in five months.

The US has found increasing evidence that Iran is assisting Shiite militias in southern Iraq, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told National Public Radio in an interview aired Thursday. He said intelligence points to a transfer of "very sophisticated explosive technology" to the insurgents and warned that Iran should "cease and desist."

Two US astronauts are set to continue their work on the outside of the International Space Station on Saturday, three days after a nearly eight-hour spacewalk spent making changes to the cooling system. Officials said it doesn't appear that dislodged toxic ammonia wound up on the suits of Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams.

In the latest in a string of recent crackdowns, federal agents arrested 53 workers suspected of being illegal immigrants Wednesday at a trash collection plant near Houston. More than 750 similar arrests were made in metropolitan Los Angeles last week, and nearly 1,300 at meatpacking plants in six states in December.

A nearly decade-long legal battle over affirmative action admissions policies at the University of Michigan ended Wednesday. Two plaintiffs who'd brought a class-action lawsuit against the school in 1997 agreed to drop all claims in exchange for $20,000 in legal costs. In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down the university's undergraduate admissions formula, which factored in race. In November, Michigan voters banned the use of race and gender preferences in university admissions and government hiring.

Exxon Mobil Corp. on Thursday posted a US record annual profit of $39.5 billion despite a 4 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings.

Nearly 27,000 gallons of oil remaining in Alaskan waters from the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill are declining at a 4 percent annual rate, according to a new federal study of lingering environmental impacts. Such persistence, the report indicates, can pose a threat to animals. Exxon said it has supported 350 independent studies that have found no significant long-term impacts from the spill.

Travel executives told a Senate panel Wednesday that the industry is losing ground with international visitors, partly because of long lines at customs and delays and difficulties in getting visas since 9/11. The US was the destination for 7.5 percent of all international travelers in 2000, but only 6 percent today. Ideas for halting the decline include expedited screening and airport videos that help arrivals with the entry process.

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