I'm Alex Villarreal with the VOA Special English Economics Report, from http://voaspecialenglish.com | http://facebook.com/voalearningenglish The season for buying Christmas gifts was the busiest time for most stores and online retailers in the United States. Final numbers for the holiday season including after-Christmas sales will not be known for a while. But a report on retail sales in November suggested that economic growth may be gaining speed. The Commerce Department said sales increased for the fifth month in a row. They grew by eight-tenths of one percent over October. But the report came the same day the central bank said the economy is not growing fast enough to reduce unemployment. The jobless rate is nearly ten percent. So, policy makers at the Federal Reserve voted to continue a program of buying government bonds. That program, launched in November, could inject six hundred billion dollars into the economy. The aim is to increase economic growth by lowering long-term interest rates. That would reduce borrowing costs for businesses and individuals. But long-term rates have risen since the Fed launched its latest program of so-called quantitative easing, known as "QE2." One way to get a sense of how Americans feel about the economy is through retail sales. Consumer demand drives about seventy percent of the nation's economic activity. The National Retail Federation says its members employ twenty-five million people in the retail and services industry. Those businesses reported almost two and a half trillion dollars in sales in two thousand nine. Terry Lundgren is chief executive of Macy's, the company that owns Macy's and Bloomingdales department stores. He said: "Retail and restaurants represent one in five jobs in America. So if we do well then we're going to be the ones that will start to lead us into a recovery." The kinds of stores where sales are up also says something about the economy. Stores with the lowest prices do well in hard economic times. But the retail federation said at the end of November that discounters had fewer shoppers this year. Stores that sell jewelry and other higher-priced items have seen sales grow. Another change: Americans are less willing to buy on credit. Over forty percent of holiday shoppers said they planned to mainly use debit cards instead of credit cards. Instead of borrowing money, debit cards take money directly from a bank account. For VOA Special English, I'm Alex Villarreal. (Adapted from a radio program broadcast 17Dec2010)
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