Nation roundup for February 21
Applications for jobless aid drop
WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits fell a slight 3,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 336,000, a sign that layoffs remain low.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose slightly to a seasonally adjusted 338,500.
The average is roughly in line with pre-recession levels and indicates that companies are cutting few jobs. Applications are a rough proxy for layoffs.
The number of applicants has stabilized in recent weeks despite modest levels of hiring in January and February. When applications for unemployment benefits remain fairly steady from week to week, it suggests that businesses are confident that customer demand will be strong enough to justify retaining their workers.
A total of 3.53 million Americans received benefits as of Feb. 1 — the latest period for which figures are available — up from 3.52 million the previous week.
In recent months, snowstorms and frigid weather have contributed to a slowdown in hiring, retail sales and home construction. A scant 113,000 jobs were added in January. That follows the addition of just 75,000 jobs in December. Job growth for the past two months is only about half the monthly average for the previous two years.
Some positive signs did emerge in January’s jobs report. The unemployment rate reached a five-year low of 6.6 percent. The decline from 6.7 percent occurred because more of those out of work found jobs.
Crashes decrease for older drivers
WASHINGTON (AP) — Safety researchers expressed concern a decade ago that traffic accidents would increase as the nation’s aging population swelled the number of older drivers on the road. Now, they say they’ve been proved wrong.
Today’s drivers aged 70 and older are less likely to be involved in crashes than previous generations and are less likely to be killed or seriously injured if they do crash, according to a study released Thursday by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
That’s because vehicles are getting safer and seniors are generally getting healthier, the institute said.
The marked shift began taking hold in the mid-1990s and indicates that growing ranks of aging drivers as baby boomers head into their retirement years aren’t making U.S. roads deadlier.
Traffic fatalities overall in the U.S. have declined to levels not seen since the late 1940s, and accident rates have come down for other drivers as well. But since 1997, older drivers have enjoyed bigger declines as measured by both fatal crash rates per driver and per vehicle miles driven than middle-age drivers, defined in the study as ages 35 to 54.
From 1997 to 2012, fatal crash rates per licensed driver fell 42 percent for older drivers and 30 percent for middle-age ones, the study found. Looking at vehicle miles traveled, fatal crash rates fell 39 percent for older drivers and 26 percent for middle-age ones from 1995 to 2008.
The greatest rate of decline was among drivers age 80 and over, nearly twice that of middle-age drivers and drivers ages 70 to 74.
Man aims to row across Atlantic
NEW YORK (AP) — A tenacious New Yorker who has been trying for nearly a decade to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean, but has been plagued by bad luck, shipwreck and maybe a little early naiveté, has embarked on his fourth attempt at the epic journey.
Victor Mooney, 48, of Brooklyn, left Wednesday from the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa for a roughly 3,000-mile row to the British Virgin Islands.
After landing in April or May, he plans to resupply his tiny boat and row another nearly 1,800-plus miles to New York. Along the way, he’ll live on freeze-dried military rations, a variety of herbs and green tea and whatever fish he can yank from the sea.
“I feel very confident,” Mooney said by telephone last week from a marina in Maspolamas, Gran Canaria. “Everything is checked, double-checked. … I’m ready.”
This impossibly long, lonely path is one Mooney has set out on before. But so far, his tale reads less like “The Old Man and the Sea,” and more like the one told in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” about a land-obsessed monarch who stubbornly builds his castle on swampland only to have it repeatedly sink or burn.
Mooney’s first trans-Atlantic attempt, in 2006, ended when a 24-foot, wooden rowboat he’d built himself sank off the West African coast just hours after he’d pushed off from a beach in Senegal.
Three years later, he tried again with an oceangoing rowboat boat built by a professional. Its drinking water systems failed after two weeks at sea and he had to be rescued.
In 2011, Mooney set off from the Cape Verde Islands in an even more sophisticated boat. But that vessel, dubbed the Never Give Up, had apparently been damaged in transit and sprang a leak shortly after he put to sea.
He escaped in a life raft then spent two weeks drifting 250 miles on the open ocean.
“It was quite humbling,” Mooney said of the disaster. “The first two days I cried like a baby because I didn’t want to die.”
A devout Roman Catholic, he consoled himself by reading a waterlogged Bible, especially Psalm 91, which promises that angels will protect the faithful. Finally, he was picked up by a cargo ship headed for Brazil.
Before that trip, Mooney had vowed to his wife that it would be his last, whether he made it or not. But he was barely on dry land in Brazil before he was plotting another attempt.
This time, Mooney says he has taken his preparation to another level.
His Brazilian-built oceangoing rowboat, he says, is his best yet. He spent months getting familiar with the craft by training around Long Island. He has better communications equipment aboard. More care was taken packing and shipping the boat. He’s taken it out for extensive trials in the Canary Islands to make sure everything is working.
He’s also getting support throughout the trip from an oceanographer, Jenifer Clark, and meteorologist, Dane Clark, a husband-and-wife team in Maryland whose previous clients have included Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who last year became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the aid of a shark cage.
Their role will be to make sure Mooney stays on a course that takes advantage of the Atlantic’s ever-changing currents and weather. Rowers who get caught on the wrong side of an eddy can wind up moving backward, they said.
This time of year, Mooney isn’t likely to encounter any major storms, but the sea — as always — will test his mettle.
“It’s not a pleasant row,” Dane Clark said. “There are some pretty big waves that build up in the trade winds. Six-, eight-, nine-foot seas. It’s not going to be easy. He has to be prepared to capsize.”
Mooney’s boat, a capsule-like affair, is designed to offer protection even in high seas. Like all of his attempts, he said, this one is being done in honor of a brother who died of AIDS in 1983.
The New Yorker is one of several people to attempt an east-to-west crossing of the Atlantic this winter. Successful crossings happen annually, according to statistics kept by The Ocean Rowing Society. Failure and high-seas rescues are also common.
“A series of failures, a lot of times, leads you to a victory,” Jenifer Clark said. She cited the travails of Nyad, whose attempts to reach Florida from Cuba began in 1978, and were foiled repeatedly due to jellyfish stings, asthma and bad weather.
Mooney said he is committed to finally making it.
The stubborn king in “The Holy Grail” lost his first three castles to the swamp, as other kings ridiculed him as daft.
“But the fourth one stayed up!” he told his son. “And that’s what you’re gonna get, lad. The strongest castle in these islands.”
Here’s hoping Mooney is just as successful on his fourth try.
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