The unemployment rate in December 2011 was 8.5 percent, lower than 9.4 percent a year ago.
There were 5.6 million people among the long-term unemployed in December 2011. While alarmingly high, this number is a bit lower than the 6.4 million long-term unemployed a year ago.
Not included in the unemployment rate, however, are the 2.5 million people who in December 2011 wanted work but stopped looking because they don't think there is any work for them - little changed from a year earlier.
Similarly not included in the unemployment rate are people working part-time because they could not find full-time work. This number is down slightly from a year ago: in Dec. 2011, 8.1 million were working part-time for economic reasons, while in Dec. 2010, 8.9 million people were doing so.
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)
In Jan 2012 the average national gas price is $3.389 a gallon, an increase of 28 cents compared with $3.11 a gallon a year ago.
Historically this is fairly high for this time of year.
(Source: Energy Information Administration)
The budget deficit was $86 billion in December, and it was $322 billion through the first three months of the budget year - $47 billion less than the same time last year.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates the government will run a $973 billion deficit for the entire 2012 budget year, which began on Oct. 1. While lower than last year's $1.3 trillion imbalance, it would be higher than any previous deficit before fiscal year 2009.
The government ran an all-time record deficit of $1.41 trillion in fiscal 2009.
(Source: Treasury, Congressional Budget Office)
National foreclosure activity in 2011 was down 34 percent from a year ago.
The foreclosure rate in 2010 was the highest annual foreclosure rate since the housing bust began.
(Source: Realty Trac)
The median new home price was $214,611 in November 2011, lower than $220,256 a year ago.
New home prices continue to be hammered as foreclosed and distressed properties inundate the housing market.
(Source: Census Bureau)
The U.S. economy grew at a slower rate of 1.8 percent in the third quarter of 2011 as compared with 2.5 percent a year ago.
The slowdown in 2011 was a result of the surge in oil (thanks in part to the Arab Spring) and other commodity prices that hammered consumers. Growth was hurt by fallout from the Japanese earthquake. The political spectacle over the debt ceiling and the debt downgrade by S&P also didn't help matters. Finally all this happened just as the effects of stimulus from the Recovery Act (passed in February 2009) were fading.
Economists say an economic growth pace of about 3.5 percent over several quarters is needed to bring down high unemployment.
(Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis)