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Lawmakers worried about Japan’s role in trade talks

WASHINGTON – Concerned that Japan’s possible participation in ongoing trade talks among Pacific nations threatens the U.S. auto industry, congressional Democrats raised their worries in a letter to President Barack Obama on Thursday.

At least four dozen House and Senate Democrats said Japan has a long history of erecting barriers against U.S. auto imports and resisting U.S. efforts to create a more level playing field, and that is unlikely to change if Japan joins the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, negotiations aimed at establishing free trade principles.

Instead, they wrote, Japanese auto exports to the United States could increase if the United States eliminates its current 2.5 percent car tariffs and 25 percent truck tariffs.

“These longstanding economically harmful practices are not susceptible to cursory negotiations at this stage, three years into the U.S. involvement in the TPP negotiations and close to the administration’s target date” for concluding the TPP talks, they wrote.

The administration has said it hopes to wrap up the negotiations by the end of this year. Last month, during a visit to Washington, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a joint statement with Obama saying they would continue talks on Japan’s “possible interest” in joining the TPP talks.

Survey finds more mothers would like to work full time

LOS ANGELES – Mothers’ attitudes toward full-time work have shifted since 2007, with more women wanting to work full time, a Pew Research Center poll released Thursday found.

Among mothers with children under 18, the percentage that said they wish to work full time grew to 32 percent in 2012 – up from 20 percent in 2007.

The survey, which also examined how fathers balance family and work life, also found that the public remains divided on the impact of parents’ work schedules on their children.

Only 16 percent of those polled said mothers working full time is ideal, while 42 percent said the more preferable situation is mothers working part time. A third reported that the best thing for children is that mothers do not work at all outside of the home.

“Women have made major strides in education and employment, and the American workplace has been transformed,” Pew said. “But with these changes have come the added pressures of balancing work and family life, for mothers and fathers alike.”

Unemployment claims fall to five-year low

WASHINGTON – Fewer Americans sought unemployment aid last week, reducing the average number of weekly applications last month to a five-year low. The drop shows that fewer layoffs are strengthening the job market.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications fell 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 332,000. That reduced the four-week average to 346,750, the lowest since the week of March 8, 2008, three months after the Great Recession began.

The report “provides further evidence of a gradual strengthening in labor market conditions,” Paul Dales, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said in a note to clients.

Investors appeared to view the report as further evidence that job growth and the economy are strengthening. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 64 points in mid-day trading, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index neared its all-time high.

Applications for unemployment aid are a proxy for layoffs, and their steady decline signals that companies are laying off fewer and fewer workers.