Maine’s March joblessness rate inches down to 8.2%

Maine’s unemployment rate during March was 8.2 percent, a slight drop from February’s 8.3 percent figure.

State Labor Commissioner Laura Fortman said the number of unemployed people in Maine totaled 58,000, up 1,800 from a year earlier. At the same time, March marked the first time Maine has had three consecutive months of job gains since the middle of 2007.

Maine’s preliminary March unemployment rate compares with the national rate of 9.7 percent.

Other New England states’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rates in March were 7 percent in New Hampshire, 6.5 percent in Vermont, 9.3 percent in Massachusetts, 12.6 percent in Rhode Island and 9.2 percent in Connecticut. The New England average was 9.1 percent.

Rhode Island’s jobless rate was tied for third highest in the country with that of California, the U.S. Labor Department reported Friday.

While Michigan once again led the country with the highest jobless rate at 14.1 percent, that was unchanged from February. Following Michigan, the states with the highest unemployment rates were Nevada, 13.4 percent; and California and Rhode Island.

North Dakota continued to have the lowest jobless rate at 4 percent, followed by South Dakota at 4.8 percent and Nebraska at 5 percent.


Watchdog: Regulators knew of Ponzi plot 12 years earlier

The Securities and Exchange Commission knew since 1997 that R. Allen Stanford likely was operating a Ponzi scheme but waited 12 years to bring fraud charges against the billionaire, the agency’s inspector general said Friday.

An SEC enforcement official who helped quash investigations of Stanford’s business later legally represented him, according to a new report by the agency watchdog.

The SEC didn’t bring charges against Stanford until February 2009, when it alleged a $7 billion fraud.

SEC Inspector General David Kotz said in the report that “institutional influence” in the enforcement division was a factor in the agency’s repeated decisions not to conduct a full investigation.

Complex cases like Stanford’s that couldn’t be quickly resolved were discouraged by enforcement higher-ups, the IG’s report said.


Toyota to recall minivans over potential rusting cables

Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday it was recalling 600,000 Sienna minivans sold in the U.S. to address potential rusting spare tire cables that could break and create a road hazard in the latest safety problem to strike the beleaguered automaker.

The recall came as House investigators said they planned to hold another congressional hearing in May to review potential electronic problems in runaway Toyotas.

The Japanese automaker has recalled more than 8 million vehicles because of faulty accelerator pedals.

Company leaders vowed to respond quickly to the safety concerns.

Toyota said its latest recall covered the 1998-2010 model year Siennas with two-wheel-drive that have been sold or registered in 20 cold-climate states and the District of Columbia.

The company said rust from road salt could cause the carrier cable that holds the spare tire to rust and break, allowing the tire to tumble into the road. The problem could threaten the safety of other drivers.

Toyota said it was unaware of any accidents or injuries.

The automaker said it was working on a fix for the problem. In the meantime, customers will receive a notice telling them to bring their vehicle to a dealership for an inspection.


Eight bank closures bring total so far this year to 50

Regulators have shut down eight banks — three in Florida, two in California, and one each in Massachusetts, Michigan and Washington — putting the number of U.S. bank failures this year at 50.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. on Friday took over the three Florida banks: Riverside National Bank in Fort Pierce, First Federal Bank of North Florida in Palatka and AmericanFirst Bank in Clermont.

The FDIC also seized Innovative Bank, based in Oakland, Calif.; Tamalpais Bank of San Rafael, Calif.; City Bank, based in Lynnwood, Wash.; Butler Bank in Lowell, Mass.; and Lakeside Community Bank in Sterling Heights, Mich.

Last year, 140 banks failed in the U.S., the highest annual number since 1992, during the peak of the savings and loan crisis. The failures last year cost the FDIC’s insurance fund more than $30 billion.

FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair has predicted that the number of bank failures will peak this year and be slightly more than in 2009.


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