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Life in the slow lane

Unemployment numbers dropped to their lowest levels in three and a half years, a sign that the economy is moving forward again.

It's not the harp strings of nirvana, but the employment picture is improving in the U.S. After going the wrong way a week ago, the number of people signing up for unemployment benefits fell to its lowest level in more than 3 1/2 years.

Fred Dickson is chief investment strategist at D.A. Davidson. He says unemployment is down, in part, because banks are lending again. That's allowing small businesses to get lines of credit to expand their business and hire staff.

In an otherwise rather upbeat stream of economic data, there was one noteworthy disappointing report out today from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. It surveyed manufacturers and even while showing some expansion, it fell short of expectations. That surprised Dickson, especially because a similar manufacturing survey released on Tuesday, the Empire State Manufacturing Index, beat expectations.

Dickson says both numbers are likely to move up and down a bit, and even on their best days, both are at the low end of positive territory. Dickson likens it to an economy "probably moving ahead at 20 miles an hour in a 55 mile an hour speed zone."

We'll use the slow pace to better observe the green shoots that are appear to be pushing up through the post-Great Recession scorched earth.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio
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