The Note

"The positive hiring news was tempered by the still-weak level of hiring. Economists had predicted that about 150,000 new jobs would be added in November, and are looking for monthly payroll gains of 200,000 to 300,000 to significantly lower the unemployment rate and sustain a labor market recovery."

Secretary Snow writes into USA Today to let everyone know: "The U.S. economy is getting stronger every day." LINK

First-time unemployment claims rose last week, the Wall Street Journal 's Joseph Rebello reports. The total claims number, up 11,000, was a three-week high of 365,000, but it remained below the 400,000 mark for the ninth straight week. The Labor Department is expected to report a November increase of 150,000 non-farm jobs.

More, according to Schindelheim: The holiday shopping season "got off to a moderate start," according to a closely watched report on sales at the nation's chain stores. The Bank of Mitsubishi-Tokyo reported sales at 74 chain stores increased 3.6% in November, as compared to November 2002 sales — slightly lower than expected. Consumers spent on, though, laying out $54.4 billion, compared to $52.6 billion last year.

Something to keep in mind while you're buttoning up your overcoat today: Schindelheim also reports that wholesale prices for natural gas, heating oil and crude oil prices rose Thursday.

The prices won't be passed on to consumers right away, but inventories are tight and bills could end up higher. The Energy Department estimated in October a rise of 5 percent for natural gas bills and a drop of 8 percent for heating oil bills if it's a normal winter. If it's a cold winter, bills will rise, the estimate said.

Big Casino state budget politics: The Note literally sat on the edge of its seat Thursday (because the lady behind us kept kicking the chair) for the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers to release their biannual report of the fiscal status of the states.

In short, the news is this: the states' economies are only sluggishly improving revenue collections and they continue to make large cuts to try to get out of the hole.

NGA Director Raymond Scheppach said the states have "bottomed out." It was the third straight year of virtually no spending growth, which NASBO Director Scott Pattison pointed out is really unprecedented.

Vicki Kemper of the Los Angeles Times pored through the fiscal report card and writes, "After three years of combining severe budget cuts with moderate tax increases, state governments are beginning to climb out of the hole created by a weak national economy, skyrocketing health care expenses and cuts in capital gains taxes … " LINK

" … The semiannual report of the governors' association and the National Assn. of State Budget Officers predicted that budget pressures would continue to force governors and state legislators to make tortured political choices. 'Unfortunately, it's still a very difficult time for the states,' said Scott Pattison, executive director of the budget officers' group."

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush-Cheney re-elect:

President Bush has a pretty nice little Friday planned today in Maryland, with a visit to a Home Depot in Halethorpe and a BC04 fundraiser in Baltimore. (Maybe he'll stop at Bed, Bath, & Beyond, but we're not sure if he'll have enough time.)

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