Propped up by soaring prices for food, gasoline, and other needs, consumer spending rose 0.4 percent in March, double the increase that economists had forecast, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Meanwhile, the number of US workers applying for jobless benefits surged by 35,000 last week to a four-year seasonally adjust high of 380,000.

The pace of US Latino growth has quickened in recent years, according to US Census Bureau estimates released Thursday that show about 1 of every 4 children younger than 5 is now Latino, compared with 1 in 5 in 2000. In California and New Mexico,

Native Hawaiians, in a first during many years of on-and-off sovereignty protests, chained the gates outside the historic Iolani Palace in Honolulu Wednesday as part of a peaceful six-hour blockade. The palace, which now serves as a museum, was built in 1882 by Hawaiian King Kalakaua.

"I hope there's some mercy," long-time fugitive Susan LeFevre said in a San Diego jail Wednesday as she awaited extradition to Michigan after her recent arrest, ending her 32 years with an assumed identity. Not even her husband of 23 years, nor their three children, knew that she had escaped in 1976 from a Michigan prison, where she was serving a sentence on heroin charges.

Los Angeles still has the worst year-round smog, but Pittsburgh is the worst place for short-term particle pollution, according to the American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, which uses data from 2004 to 2006. Progress, however, is occurring in both communities, which have undertaken cleanup initiatives.

Michael Bitz, winner of a national competition to come up with entrepreneurial solutions to problems in US schools, is helping students in New York to learn academic subjects while creating their own record labels. With the $250,000 fellowship he won this week from the Indianapolis-based Mind Trust, Bitz, a Columbia University professor, hopes to bring the idea to schools across the country.

A 4.5-billion-year-old meteorite, discovered in Fukang, China, in 2000, went unsold at auction in New York Wednesday, but negotiations reportedly continue for the rock, which had been expected to sell for as much as $2.75 million. Above, owner Marvin Kilgore poses with the rare iron meteorite.

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