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TSG in the News: Gas Stations Fight Hackers – But They’re Going to Have to Pay for It

TSG in the News: Gas Stations Fight Hackers – But They’re Going to Have to Pay for It

By: Jon Marino

Hackers are dialing up the heat on gas stations, but business owners are about to start fighting back.
As U.S. retailers continue the nationwide rollout of payment terminals that accept EMV cards, which are chip-enabled debit and credit cards designed to better stamp out fraud, more than 150,000 convenience stores and gas stations will be the next leg of implementation.
Similar to last year’s deadline rush to update brick-and-mortar stores’ payment systems, it’s expected to cause headaches at the pump and at the register when upgrades begin over the next 12 months.
The deadline for installing payment technology is Oct. 1, 2017, but convenience store operators big and small are expected to begin setting up new systems in less than a year as gas stations get ready for the switch.
It’s going to cost stations and convenience stores about $6 billion, since upgrading the technology comes with a price tag as high as $17,000 per pump, according to Gray Taylor, executive director of industry group Conexxus. That has the potential to cut into the bottom line of small-business owners, who make up the majority of owners of U.S. gas stations and convenience stores.
“It’s an economic calculation for the merchant,” said Jason Oxman, CEO of The Electronic Transactions Association. “It’s a lot harder to replace a gas pump.”
Some U.S. retailers, notably small businesses, balked at the fall 2015 deadline to implement EMV technology at points of sale, because the payment terminals were costly to acquire. They run several thousand dollars, depending on the number of card processing machines. EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa — the three entities that created the new standard for payment processing.
Gas stations and convenience stories will have to remove many pumps entirely to install new technology. Retrofitting existing pumps can cost more than $6,000, Taylor said. While it’s expected to cost more than the technology upgrades retailers faced, the loss of gas pumps may create delays for summer drivers next year.
That isn’t to say every gas station in the U.S. will be overhauling technology at once. Still other gas stations may opt to delay their EMV card readers until after the deadline’s passing — making them potentially vulnerable to hackers whose targets are becoming fewer — and likely setting them up for greater losses on identity theft.
At the same time they’re implementing the EMV chip technology, gas stations and convenience stores will also make the upgrade to mobile payments systems, meaning that they will not have to make any big overhauls in the future to accommodate cardless technology.
Gas stations and convenience stores are some of the last U.S. retailers to make the upgrade to the EMV card platform (some ATMs also have until Oct. 1, 2017, to make the technology switch). Because many hackers have been disrupted by retailers, they have increasingly targeted convenience stores and ATMs lacking the security measures, experts said.
“From a criminal perspective, that window of opportunity is shrinking,” said Jared Drieling, business intelligence manager at payment data analysis firm The Strawhecker Group. “There’s going to be a rush to get those updated.”

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You Recognize Mastercard. So Why Is It Changing Its Logo?

You Recognize Mastercard. So Why Is It Changing Its Logo?
By Michael Bierut

The Mastercard in your wallet just expired. You can still use it—but it doesn’t look right anymore, because the company just revamped its look. No more CamelCase; it’s just “Mastercard” now (and in some cases “mastercard,” but we’ll get to that). The logo still has the overlapping red and yellow circles and sans-serif font, but all the elements are slimmer, flatter, less fussy.
You might be thinking: Why bother? You’re one of more than 2.3 billion people who carry the company’s cards, and in Mastercard’s internal tests, more than 80 percent of survey participants identified those circles as its brand. It was familiar. It worked. “This is really one of the most broadly distributed and most widely seen marks in the world,” says Michael Bierut, who designed the new branding with Pentagram partner Luke Hayman. Between them, the acclaimed designers have revamped identities for everyone from Verizon to New York Magazine to Hillary Clinton.
But no matter who’s doing the rethinking, Mastercard’s indelible identity is the kind companies generally prefer to leave alone—especially businesses that handle money. “People just don’t trust financial services,” says John Paolini, head of design at Sullivan, a branding agency that has worked with banks and finance companies. Consistent branding is one way banks and credit cards build trust with their customers. Change is scary.
Change is also constant. Like many 21st-century financial institutions, Mastercard’s business is about more than credit cards. It’s also an online payment platform, a digital wallet, and a technology company. So the branding has to be flexible, too. “It needs to thrive in a digital space,” says Cindy Chastain, head of Mastercard’s customer experience and design. “It’s simplified. It’s modernized and optimized for relevance in an increasingly digital world.”
Translation: Companies want their logos to look good everywhere you encounter them—on a billboard, a laptop screen, a smartwatch, or a phone. The challenge for Bierut and Hayman was to update Mastercard’s logo without throwing out decades of brand recognition. “I think it’s incumbent on us as designers to get out of the way and not try to be clever and get our fingerprints all over it, but just let this powerful stuff do its work,” Bierut says.
So they went with history. The circular elements date all the way back to the company’s logo when it was called Interbank, in 1966. It’s also got the lowercase letters from 1968’s Master Charge logo; the overlapping, rather than interlocking, colors from 1968 and 1979; the vibrant color palette of the ’90s; and the dissociated name (or, in design-speak, “wordmark”) from 2006. You might not recognize that corporate logo, because they didn’t use it on cards.
“We were very enthusiastic about the 1979 version, especially the circular structure of the typography,” says Bierut. “Each letter contains a curve that’s a portion of a circle.” (Even the “m” and “t”—Mastercard has always had a thing for circles.) “It was a godsend because we were actively on the hunt for a typeface that was available in a lot of different weights, that was based largely on a circle, and that looked clear and simple and readable,” Bierut says. the typeface, FFMark, “looks frictionless in a way. We were delirious when we started using it—just the way it pulled everything together.”
It’s like graphic designers are always saying: Complexity often hides behind a veneer of simplicity. The logo needed to work on both black and white backgrounds, so they had to calibrate the colors so that the yellow stood out on white but the red didn’t disappear into black. “We probably did hundreds of tests to get this exactly right,” Beirut says.
Whether it works is as unsure a thing as anything else in business. “There was a time when the role of identity was to be distinctive, to simply stand out,” says Chris Moody, chief design officer at brand consultancy Wolff Olins. “Today it also has to be channel agnostic, be able to partner well and be useful. The stripped down approach may do the latter but will it do the former?”
Bierut’s confident. “To get to something that’s really fundamental is really good,” he says. Is it simple? Sure. But look at the peace sign, the smiley face, the Valentines heart. Besides, he says, not all brands have the permission to embrace this kind of minimalism—it takes a certain scale to make it work. “At the end of the day Mastercard has no interest in being famous for being the company that has the really intricate, clever tricky logo,” he says. The company just wants to be in everyone’s wallet. And on their phones. And everywhere else. Easy, right?

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Retail Sales Rise More Than Forecast as U.S. Consumers Spend

Retail Sales Rise More Than Forecast as U.S. Consumers Spend
By: Victoria Stilwell

Boeing Co. is nearing a $4 billion deal with Russia’s largest air-freight company that would help extend the life of the iconic, hump-nosed 747 jumbo jet amid waning demand for four-engine aircraft, people close to the transaction said.

The U.S. planemaker is in advanced talks with AirBridgeCargo Airlines and its Moscow-based parent, Volga-Dnepr Group, to convert a year-old commitment into more than 10 firm orders for 747-8 freighters, two of the people said. The agreement could be announced as soon as the Farnborough Airshow next month in England, according to four people briefed on the deal, who asked not to be identified because the talks are confidential.

The deal would provide a crucial lifeline for the “Queen of the Skies” as Boeing tries to preserve production until the air-cargo market revives or shipping companies start to replace aging wide-body fleets. The 747 freighter, prized for a hinged nose that allows large cargo to be loaded at the front, is Boeing’s second-most expensive commercial jet, with a list price of $379.1 million. Buyers typically negotiate discounts.

Converting commitments to firm orders starts the process of allocating manufacturing resources and production slots to build the planes.

Boeing rose 2.6 percent to $133.13 at 9:37 a.m. in New York. The gain was the biggest in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which climbed 1.4 percent in a global rally fueled by signs that the campaign to keep the U.K. in the Europe Union was gaining strength.

A representative of Volga-Dnepr declined to comment on the talks, but said the airline plans to take all 20 jumbos it committed to last year. A Boeing spokesman declined to comment.
Airline Shift

Sales have dwindled for Boeing’s four-engine 747 and the Airbus Group SE A380 superjumbo jetliner as airlines have shifted long-range travel to more-efficient twin-engine models like Boeing’s 777. Boeing had just 22 unfilled orders for the 747 through May, according to its website. The planemaker halved annual output of its largest commercial jet to six planes in January, citing declining sales.

The potential Russian savior for the 747 — which brought long-range travel to the mass consumer market when it was introduced by Pan American World Airways in 1970 — isn’t just a Boeing customer. Volga-Dnepr also transports large aircraft segments for Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner from suppliers to the planemaker’s factories.
‘White Tails’

At the Paris Air Show last June, Volga-Dnepr signed a memorandum of understanding to buy 20 of the 747-8 freighter. The shipping company took delivery in November of the first two aircraft, so-called white tails built for other customers whose orders fell through.

The Russian freight hauler confirmed it is the unidentified buyer for two of the four jumbo freighter orders Boeing recorded in March, saying the planes will be delivered later this year. The first of those two 747s has been repainted with the livery of CargoLogicAir Ltd., a Volga-Dnepr subsidiary.

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No purchase is too tiny for today’s debit-card users — right, millennials?

By Lauren Zumbach

Do you roll your eyes in the checkout line when someone pulls out a card to pay for a candy bar or pack of gum? Get used to the feeling.
While 58 percent of Americans still use cash for small purchases, a growing share say they whip out a credit or debit card even when spending less than $5, according to a CreditCards.com survey of 616 people with major credit cards.
About 38 percent of people surveyed said they used credit or debit cards for small purchases, up from 33 percent in 2014, the survey found.
“Every sign seems to indicate we’re moving farther and farther away from cash, and it seems like things like mobile payments will only end up accelerating that,” said Matt Schulz, senior industry analyst at CreditCards.com.

For consumers — particularly millennials who didn’t grow up with the habit of carrying cash like their parents or grandparents — the convenience of cards is hard to beat, said Credit.com expert Bob Sullivan.
According to the survey, 46 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they used debit cards for small purchases, 18 percent used credit cards and only 36 percent used cash.
“There used to be a stigma to using plastic to make small purchases, but that’s clearly gone,” Schulz said.
Some credit-card experts said the shift away from cash isn’t a bad thing, but that the survey results suggest some spenders aren’t picking the right kind of card. The growth in the share of Americans using plastic for small purchases between 2014 and 2016 came entirely from people using debit cards, while the share using credit cards to pay for items under $5 was flat at 11 percent, according to the CreditCards.com survey.
Millennials’ preference for debit cards could be driving some of that growth, Schulz said. Many already have student loan debt, came of age in a recession and don’t want to take on a new kind of debt with credit cards, he said.
But treating a debit card like cash is “generally a terrible idea,” said Sullivan, who advocates keeping them tucked in a wallet except during ATM withdrawals.
Although consumer-protection measures have made it harder to get hit with a fee for overdrawing a bank account, “the $5 hamburger that can cost $40 is still a real risk,” Sullivan said.
Fraudulent transactions can also be more problematic with debit cards than credit cards, experts said. A fraudulent credit-card charge doesn’t need to be paid immediately, and companies usually reverse disputed transactions, while a customer whose debit card is targeted may be liable for a portion of the fraudulent charge and doesn’t have access to stolen money until the case is resolved, said Sean McQuay, credit-card expert for NerdWallet.
Debit-card users may also be missing out on rewards, experts said. An increasingly competitive credit-card market has made rewards programs more lucrative than usual for customers who don’t carry a balance, while debit cards with rewards are increasingly rare, Schulz said.
Even if the dollar amount a typical customer earns in rewards isn’t huge, as long as someone pays the card in full every month, “it’s essentially a debit card that also gives you rewards,” McQuay said.
Sullivan said consumers should be wary of making small charges on either type of card, since it can make it harder to stick to a budget.
“When people thoughtlessly swipe, swipe, swipe, it’s less tangible and they often don’t understand how much they’re spending,” he said.
Lots of small charges can also make it harder for customers to spot fraudulent transactions.
A “bad guy” with a stolen card might make a small purchase to test that the card works before racking up big charges, Schulz said. Sullivan said some skip big purchases entirely, hoping many $10 or $20 fraudulent charges will go unnoticed over time.
But others said putting even tiny purchases on credit cards can be a smart idea.
While some people might struggle to keep spending in check when they can’t see a shrinking stack of bills in their wallet, others might find the record of purchases that comes with a credit card helps them budget, McQuay said.
Small, everyday purchases add up more quickly than big-ticket items, so customers whose credit cards offer rewards and don’t carry a balance are missing out by not charging those items, he said.
And despite worries about credit- and debit-card fraud, both offer more protections than cash, which once stolen is nearly always gone for good, Schulz said.
Experts said they expect the greenback may keep losing market share to plastic, mobile and online payments, but that doesn’t mean it’s going away.
“Merchants still pay fees for debit- and credit-card acceptance,” McQuay said. “For the foreseeable future, cash will be part of the mix because of the cost of accepting anything else.”

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61% of Merchants Still Store Unencrypted Payment Card Data

61% of Merchants Still Store Unencrypted Payment Card Data
OREM, Utah, Feb. 9, 2016 /PRNewswire/

Businesses continue to struggle with the prohibited storage of unencrypted customer payment data. In its fifth study on unencrypted card data, SecurityMetrics’ patented card discovery tool PANscan® found that 61% of businesses store the unencrypted 16-digit sequence on the front of credit cards, also known as the Primary Account Number (PAN).

In the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) 3.0, merchants are instructed that, “Protection methods such as encryption, truncation, masking, and hashing are critical components of cardholder data protection” in PCI DSS Requirement 3.

And yet in six years, PANscan has found more than 1.4 billion unencrypted card numbers on business networks. Fortunately, in the past few years, the amount of merchants storing unencrypted card data has gone down from 63% to 61%.

The study revealed that PANscan scanned 276,584 GB of data on 4,703 computers and found:
•A total of 213,930,199 unencrypted payment cards
•61% of businesses store unencrypted PAN data, the same percentage as 2015′s study
•10% of businesses store full magnetic stripe data, including PIN, CVV, service code, expiration date, cardholder name, and PAN
•An average of 45,488 payment cards per computer

“The trend is encouraging in general, but there is still a long way to go,” said Bill Davis, Director of Product Management at SecurityMetrics. “It surprises me that track data continues to be a problem. That’s the Holy Grail for hackers.”

Card data discovery tools like PANscan simplify the process of identifying and directing users to unencrypted card data. View the infographic (http://info.securitymetrics.com/whats-causing-you-to-store-unencrypted-payment-cards) to learn more about the study, or contact a SecurityMetrics representative at compliance@securitymetrics.com or 801.705.5665 to learn more about PANscan.

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Why Fraudsters Have Shifted to ‘Shimming’ Attacks

Why Fraudsters Have Shifted to ‘Shimming’ Attacks
By Tracy Kitten

As U.S. merchants shore up physical point-of-sale security by upgrading their terminals to accept EMV chip cards, attackers are turning their aim toward unattended self-service terminals, such as ATMs and self-service gas pumps.

While the EMV fraud liability shift date for U.S. merchants was Oct. 1, Visa’s and MasterCard’s liability shift date for self-serve gas pumps is not until Oct. 1, 2017. For ATMs, the liability shift is Oct. 1, 2016, for MasterCard and Oct. 1, 2017, for Visa.

Those EMV liability shift dates for the U.S. market are having a global impact on fraud.

In October, the European ATM Security Team reported that global card-skimming losses, which accounted for 131 million euros (U.S. $149 million) of the 156 million euros (U.S. $177.5 million) of ATM-related fraud losses reported for the first half of 2015, increased 18 percent during the first six months of 2015 when compared to the same period in 2014 (see Why ATM Fraud Will Continue to Grow).

And Jeremy King, international director of the PCI Security Standards Council, a featured presenter at Information Security Media Group’s London Fraud Summit on Oct. 27, says the PCI Council is warning European banks and merchants to brace for upticks in e-commerce, POS, ATM and pay-at-the-pump fraud.

EMV is deployed in most European markets, King points out. But without tokenization and end-to-end encryption, fraudsters can still intercept relevant card data during any EMV transaction – and that’s precisely what an emerging type of attack known as “shimming” is doing.

Card Shimming

ATM manufacturer NCR Corp. has just issued a security alert about what it called “significant” increases this year in the reported number of ATM skimming attacks. The increase has been attributed to a number of factors, including new techniques that circumvent anti-skimming technology and EMV.

One of those techniques, “shimming,” first raised alarms over the summer, after EMV-compliant ATMs in Mexico had been compromised.

A shimmer is a device that’s placed inside the ATM’s or self-service pump’s card reader to intercept communications between the chip card and the chip reader. Information that can be intercepted includes the personal account number and expiration date.

In its alert, NCR points out that shimming attacks remain alive and well; but they’re only successful if issuing banks fail to appropriately authorize card transactions.

“The attack is exploited by copying the captured chip data onto a magnetic-strip,” NCR notes. “But correct implementation of EMV will detect this during authorization, thus preventing the attack.”

NCR says card shimming, unlike typical card skimming, does not try to capture mag-stripe data. What’s more, the data intercepted from a chip card cannot be reused to create a counterfeit mag-stripe card, “because chip data and mag-stripe data have different [card verification values],” NCR adds. “The only way for this attack to be successful is if an issuer neglects to check the CVV when authorizing a transaction. All issuers MUST make these basic checks to prevent this category of fraud. Card shimming is not a vulnerability with a chip card, nor with an ATM, and therefore it is not necessary to add protection mechanisms against this form of attack to the ATM.”

Shimming losses can be prevented with proper transaction authorization, and traditional skimming attacks can be thwarted by simply having bank branch and retail staff regularly inspect ATMs and self-serve gas pumps.

Randy Vanderhoof, executive director of the Smart Card Alliance and director of the EMV Migration Forum, says shimming attacks have been well documented. Most banks, by now, should be well aware of how to detect a cloned card created with data compromised by a shimmer, he says.

“I believe there is ample information shared about such attacks among financial institutions and credit unions,” Vanderhoof says. “The existence of lax security measures to prevent known vulnerabilities is going to be part of the learning curve that all card issuers, ATM operators and merchants have to deal with among the mirage of different threats that are out there. This not a reflection on the security of EMV, but, rather, a case of poor execution of security.”

So, fair warning: We may see attacks against self-service devices on the rise. But fraud losses can be controlled if we continue sharing information about the attack trends we see and applying the lessons learned from other markets.

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Visa Chip Card Growth Makes the United States the Largest Chip Market

Visa Chip Card Growth Makes the United States the Largest Chip Market

By Ellen Richey

Four years after we embarked on a plan to introduce more secure chip technology, more people are using a Visa chip card in the United States than in any other country in the world. More than 141 million Visa chip cards are now in circulation, according to the latest data. That eclipses the roughly 129 million Visa chip cards in Brazil and 124 million cards in the United Kingdom.

What is even more remarkable is how quickly the U.S. reached this milestone. Only a year ago, we had fewer than 20 million Visa chip cards. But we’ve have seen steady adoption, month after month, since that time.

Retailers are also taking note. From nationwide retailers like Target to local candy stores and book stores, chip-enabled devices are in use at about 301,000 merchant locations, representing a 547 percent year-over-year increase. We are strongly encouraged by the number of small businesses that are using the new chip readers – in fact, small businesses accounted for about 50 percent of chip payment volume last month.

These signs point to the progress that the industry has made ahead of October 1, when the new liability system takes effect. They also affirm the commitment that the industry has made to security.

Since August 2011, Visa has led the industry in promoting the adoption of chip technology and supporting our financial institution and merchant partners as they deploy chip cards and chip-enabled readers. The goal is to better protect everyone from counterfeit fraud, which represents more than two-thirds of the fraud committed in stores today. That’s because chip cards create a one-time use code, or “cryptogram,” that’s different for every transaction – making it virtually impossible for thieves to use stolen account numbers to produce counterfeit cards. And this in turn makes merchants less attractive targets for hackers and consumers are even more secure.

We expect to see many more merchants and card issuers migrate to chip technology in the months ahead, but we don’t expect everyone to make the change right away. In fact, the roadmap was designed with flexibility in mind, allowing everyone to make the transition on a timetable that meets their needs. Some merchants, for example, will be ready later this fall; while others plan to incorporate the change in their normal replacement cycles further down the road. Canada – where chip technology is now the norm – took a few years after the liability shift date to reach their adoption goals.

In other words, the October 1 date is not the end but the beginning of a process that will ultimately lead to near-universal adoption of chip technology. With the milestones we’ve hit today, we’re well positioned for strong adoption over the next two to three years. It will take time, but we’re well on the way to the next level of payment security for consumers, businesses, and financial institutions. Check your wallets for a chip card today – and look for #chipready merchants in your area where you can use it!

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A Happy Holiday Season Expected for Retailers

A Happy Holiday Season Expected for Retailers

eMarketer

“Retail sales in November and December 2015 are expected to show a healthy increase over what was experienced during the same period in 2014. This expectation is driven primarily by the fact that gas station sales, which make up roughly 12% of overall retail sales, dropped rather dramatically in late 2014. Increases in real income from wages, further decreases in unemployment and an increased willingness to spend in traditional retail categories that missed out on the windfall in gas prices earlier on in the year should also drive growth,” said eMarketer analyst Monica Peart.

While US retail ecommerce holiday season sales growth will dip slightly this year to 13.9%, vs. 14.4% in 2014, the segment will play an increasingly important role this season. eMarketer estimates that ecommerce will hit 9.0% of total retail sales this season, or $79.40 billion, up from 8.3% share last year.

Mobile will play a part in ecommerce growth this holiday season. eMarketer expects US retail mcommerce sales to rise 32.2% in full-year 2015—more than double the 14.2% increase forecast for retail ecommerce sales as a whole. The biggest growth will come in smartphone retail mcommerce sales as consumers become more comfortable buying on their phones—which, on average, have larger screens than those released just a few years ago. We estimate that by the end of 2016, 25.0% of all retail ecommerce sales in the US will take place via mobile devices.

“As US consumers become more comfortable with conducting a litany of activities with their smartphones, fewer people are putting down the phone to make a purchase using another device. Consumers are opting to complete their transaction with the same device they began the shopping journey with, and that is increasingly with a smartphone,” said Peart.

This holiday season will be the first real test of a new wave of social commerce. Over the past year, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube have all introduced “buy” or “shop now” buttons that significantly ease the process of purchasing from these sites, especially on mobile devices.

Because Facebook and Pinterest are the social networks responsible for the most referrals to retailer websites, according to Q2 2015 figures from Merkle | RKG, retailers and others are the most interested in their buy button offerings. Both of the social networks store credit card information and let people purchase a particular item in a few clicks within the platform. Neither platform takes a cut from the purchase. They’re adding these buttons to make on-site conversions easier and more trackable, which will in turn make their advertising more valuable to retailers.

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Good Sign for Labor Market as Jobless Claims Sink to 281,000

Good Sign for Labor Market as Jobless Claims Sink to 281,000

By: Jeffry Bartash

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — The number of people who applied for U.S. unemployment benefits fell sharply in the seven days ended July 11, erasing a spike in the prior week tied to retoolings at auto plants and other seasonal quirks typical in midsummer.

Initial jobless claims in the period running from July 5 to July 11 declined by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 281,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. New claims have been under the key 300,000 level since late February, the longest run in 15 years.

“The trend in claims continues to point to labor market improvement,” said economist Derek Lindsey of BNP Paribas.

Put another way, the labor market continues to heal. The U.S. economy is still adding a solid 200,000-plus jobs a month, job openings are at a record high and layoffs are extremely low.

Initial claims had surged in early July, but the increase mostly stemmed from temporary shutdowns at auto and textile plans to retool for the latest designs and fashions. For example, claims in Michigan, a big auto-producing state, jumped in the first week of July and then subsided in the following week.

In several other states, certain educational employees such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers can also file claims when they are temporarily laid off.

These summertime changes in employment make it hard for government economists to adjust the report for seasonally variations in July, one of the most volatile months for jobless claims. Companies don’t always shut down plants in the same week each year or lay off the same number of workers.

Yet despite the unusually low level of claims, the U.S. labor market still hasn’t fully recovered from the devastation caused by the Great Recession. As Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen acknowledged on Wednesday, the nation’s official 5.3% unemployment overstates the health of the labor market.

Nearly 17 million Americans are still out of work or can only find a part-time job. The Fed has been keeping interest rates low to try to goose the economy and help those people find work.

The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, rose by 3,250 to 282,500, the government said. The four-week average smooths out sharp fluctuations in the more volatile weekly report and is seen as a more accurate predictor of labor-market trends.

Continuing jobless claims declined by 112,000 to 2.2 million in the week ended July 4. These claims reflect people already receiving unemployment checks.

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Economy adds 223,000 jobs in June; unemployment rate drops to 5.3 percent

Economy adds 223,000 jobs in June; unemployment rate drops to 5.3 percent
By: Chico Harlan

The nation added a solid 223,000 jobs in June, according to government data released Thursday morning, but flat wages coupled with a decline in the size of the nation’s workforce suggest an economy that is still well short of a full recovery.

The unemployment rate fell to 5.3 percent, the lowest mark in seven years.

The latest jobs data from the Department of Labor comes amid a spike in global economic volatility, the result of high-wire negotiations between a near-bankrupt Greece and its European creditors. Though the United States faces only modest risk from the chaos across the Atlantic, its own economy is fighting through a soft spot after an encouraging period of growth in 2014.

Markets opened slightly up Thursday morning but had flattened before noon.

[Greek finance chief vows to resign if voters back European bailout demands]

For the United States, the labor market — despite more than a year of rapid hiring — still hasn’t reached the virtuous level where workers are pulled in from the sidelines, employers must increasingly compete for hires and wages rise as a result. In months like June — when the number on the sidelines swells — the path toward tighter employment and better paychecks only gets trickier.

“The economy is sending us mixed messages,” said Bill Spriggs, a chief economist at the AFL-CIO.

Some economists and experts cautioned that the labor force participation numbers from June could be muddled by complex calculations that the government uses to smooth out seasonal fluctuations. Normally in June the workforce swells with college graduates and summer workers; the Department of Labor tries to model the underlying trends, but that modeling is harder in months with such churn.

Take away the seasonal adjustments, and the labor force grew by about 550,000, less than half of what is normally seen in June. On the White House Web site, Betsey Stevenson, a member of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, noted that households were polled earlier than usual this June, and some might have been asked about their employment situation before they began new jobs.

U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said Thursday in a phone interview that he suspected June’s numbers were an “aberration, as opposed to a more troubling trend.” Still, Perez said that the labor market has a “significant amount of slack.”

“We’re not at full employment by any stretch,” he said. “The best way to lift wages is to have tighter labor markets. We’ve had the strongest two-year job growth since the Clinton administration. The challenge for us is, we’re digging out of a much deeper hole.”

Last month wages didn’t budge and the labor force shrank by more than 400,000 workers, more than offsetting a major increase in May. The labor force participation rate — the share of people holding down jobs or seeking them — fell to 62.6 percent, the lowest point since 1977. Though some of that decline is tied to the retirement of baby boomers, prime-age individuals — between 25 and 54 years old — are also increasingly dropping out of the workforce. The prime age participation rate now stands at 80.8 percent, compared with 83.1 percent seven years ago.

Meanwhile, job growth for April and May was revised downward by a combined 60,000 positions. With the year half over, the nation is on pace to add 2.5 million jobs this year, as opposed to 3.1 million in 2014.

The headline number was roughly on par with expectations of economists.

“This jobs report is not a dud, and it’s not a sparkler,” said Mark Hamrick, an economic analyst for Bankrate.com, a personal finance Web site. “It’s somewhat in between. And it’s consistent with the two-steps-forward, one-step-back trend over the last year years. At first glance it seems terrific that the unemployment rate fell, but you look deeper and it is less than satisfying.”

Still, the nation is in better shape than it was at the start of the year, when the economy shrank 0.2 percent in the first quarter. Since then a series of indicators — retail sales, home construction and construction growth — have somewhat brightened the outlook for the year. The federal government will announce GDP growth for the period between April and June later this month.

[What these workers want to tell the Federal Reserve]

The Federal Reserve, in debating the timing of an interest rate increase after 6½ years of easy borrowing, could be influenced by ripples from Greece’s descent into financial turmoil. Though most analysts say that contagion is unlikely to spread globally, even a downturn in Europe could trim U.S. exports and growth.

If the U.S. economy shows signs of stability, the Federal Reserve could call for an interest rate hike later this year. That would increase the cost of borrowing for consumers and companies and mark a vital test for whether the world’s largest economy is ready to stand on more normal footing. But some economists said Thursday that the latest soft wage and labor force participation numbers could push back the Fed’s timetable.

In a speech in May, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen called wage growth during the recovery “generally disappointing” and said the pace “suggests that the labor market has not fully healed.”

Wage growth in June was totally flat. The average worker made $24.95 per hour, same as in May. For the year, wages have increased 2 percent, roughly in line with the average during the course of the recovery.

In June, job growth was strong both in the health care sector and the professional and business services industry. The mining sector shed another 4,000 jobs; since December, in tandem with an oil price slump, employment in mining has declined by 71,000 positions.

U.S. jobs data is normally released on the first Friday of the month, but markets will be closed this Friday because of Independence Day.

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