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Saturday, May 17, 2003

Gas prices dropping as holiday approaches WASHINGTON — Gasoline prices dropped to just less than $1.50 a gallon nationally this week reflecting a steady decline that the government says is likely to continue well into what is expected to be a heavy summer driving season.

The nationwide average of regular grade gasoline dipped to $1.496, the lowest since January, according to a survey by the American Automobile Association.

It had been at a record high of nearly $1.73 a gallon in mid-March.

The price decline, reflecting lower crude oil prices and a growth in gasoline inventories in recent weeks, came despite growing demand and expected heavy highway travel this summer.

The AAA motorists' club said that it expects 29 million people to take road trips over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the traditional start of the summer travel season.

Gays, lesbians making gains in workplace WASHINGTON — The number of U.S. employers offering health insurance benefits to same-sex domestic partners rose by 16 percent last year, according to a study released Friday by the nation's largest gay and lesbian organization.

The annual report also found a sharp increase in the number of local governments that passed laws in 2002 barring workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation employees.

At least 806 employers of all sizes expanded their health benefits in 2002 to include same-sex partners.

A total of 5,698 employers offered health benefits to same-sex partners by the end of last year, according to the study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

Personal bankruptcies reported at record high SAN FRANCISCO — Job losses and high levels of consumer debt have pushed personal bankruptcy filings to a record high.

Personal filings rose 7.4 percent to 1.57 million in the year ended March 31 — the highest number of Americans ever to file — from 1.46 million a year earlier, according to the U.S. Courts' Administrative Office.

But business filings dropped 5.8 percent to 37,548 from 39,845. Taken together, total bankruptcies filed in federal courts jumped 7.1 percent to a record 1.61 million from 1.5 million the year before. The increase in personal filings is expected to continue through the year as the weak economy, which has triggered thousands of job losses, meets high levels of debt, experts said.

Consumer prices fall in April by big margin WASHINGTON — Lower prices for energy, cars and clothes drove consumer costs down in April by the largest amount in 18 months, underscoring Federal Reserve anxiety about the possibility of a destabilizing decline.

The Consumer Price Index, the government's most closely watched inflation gauge, declined by 0.3 percent last month, after rising by 0.3 percent in March, the Labor Department reported Friday.

For the 12 months ending with April, consumer prices were up a modest 2.2 percent.

The performance of "core" prices, which exclude volatile energy and food costs, is even lower, a gain of just 1.5 percent during the same period, the smallest increase since 1966.

Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and his colleagues are on guard for any signs of deflation, a prolonged and widespread decline in prices, in the economy.

Though they say the chances of deflation are remote, Fed policy-makers last week signaled that they were prepared to lower short-term interest rates to ward off even the threat of that happening.

Boeing briefs state on 7E7 criteria EVERETT, Wash. — Boeing on Friday briefed Washington state Gov. Gary Locke and other state officials, including federal elected officials, on the criteria it will consider in choosing the location for the final assembly of its proposed 7E7 passenger jet. The company had committed to share the criteria with state officials before initiating the site selection process.

Boeing has retained the well-respected firm of McCallum Sweeney Consulting Inc. to help conduct the site selection.

"We are in search of the site that will allow us to meet our needs most successfully and deliver to the world a safe and efficient airplane," said Mike Bair, Boeing Commercial Airplanes senior vice president of the 7E7 program.

The selection criteria are available on the Web at . Interested state economic development organizations should contact Ed McCallum, senior principal at McCallum Sweeney, at 864-672-1600 or by fax at 864-672-1610, for a formal request for proposal. Proposals are due by June 20.

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