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    Higher minimum wages and moves by retailers to better compensate their lowest-paid workers will have little effect on total U.S. earnings. But they do reflect the dawning of an environment in which the Federal Reserve might finally see enough wage growth to comfortably lift rates. Some 19 states have raised minimum wages in January, including New York, Florida and Arizona, and more increases will come later this year.

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    WASHINGTON-- The percentage of money U.S. consumers spend on health care rose in 2014 for the third straight year to another record high, according to one government measure. Some 20.6% of total consumer spending in 2014 was devoted to health care, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, annual figures from the Commerce Department report on personal expenditures show. That's up from 20.4% in 2013..

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    Think the only way you'll be able to foot your son's or daughter's future college bills is by winning the lottery? While the soaring costs of college can be overwhelming, a bit of careful planning can help you leap over this financial hurdle. Still, coming up with a game plan can also be terribly confusing.

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    With college costs as high as they are, don't miss out on any of the valuable tax breaks that you may qualify for. For 2014, a $4,000 "above the line" deduction for college tuition and mandatory enrollment fees paid for you, your spouse or anyone claimed as a dependent on your return. No deduction is allowed for expenses of any person who can be claimed as a dependent on someone else's return.

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    Beige Book reports some companies are raising wages for entry-level jobs. WASHINGTON-- For the first time in years, the Federal Reserve's Beige Book is reporting that wages are beginning to rise. The Beige Book is based on formal and informal discussions with thousands of business and community leaders throughout the country.

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    WASHINGTON-- Fifty pages of the Beige Book can be reduced to one word cloud that suggests solid economic growth with a few worries on the horizon. What's showed is a word cloud of the Beige Book, with some neutral words like "First District" and "contacts" removed. It's no accident that the word "increased" is prominent-- there were 119 mentions of the word, compared to just 23 of "decreased."

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    WASHINGTON- Lower oil prices and the stronger dollar were depressing activity in several sectors, notably manufacturing, agriculture and energy exploration, according to the latest Federal Reserve's report on current economic conditions. The report, known as the Beige Book, found that manufacturers in Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago, and the farm sector in Texas and California were being hurt by weaker demand for exports due to the high value of the greenback.

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    WASHINGTON-- Lower oil prices and the stronger dollar were weighing on manufacturing, agriculture and energy exploration in many regions of the country, according to the latest report on current economic conditions. The U.S. central bank report, known as the Beige Book, found that manufacturers in Boston, Cleveland, and Chicago, and the farm sector in Texas and California were struggling to adjust to weaker demand for their exports due to the high value of the greenback.

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    The Federal Reserve on Wednesday awarded the fewest reverse repurchase agreements in two weeks as investors preferred to lend on the open market due to higher interest rates, according to Fed data. The U.S. central bank awarded $95.10 billion of overnight fixed-rate reverse repos to 39 bidders at an interest rate of 0.05 percent, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said on its website.

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    The Federal Reserve on Wednesday awarded $95.10 billion of overnight fixed-rate reverse repurchase agreements to 39 bidders at an interest rate of 0.05 percent, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York said on its website.

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    Kansas City Fed President Esther George said she would support a decision to hike short-term interest rates in mid- year. "While the FOMC has made no decisions about the timing of this action, I continue to support liftoff towards the middle of the year due to improvement in the labor market, expectations of firmer inflation, and the balance of risks over the medium and longer run," George said in a speech Wednesday at the Central Exchange in Kansas City. George, one of the more hawkish Fed...

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    Kansas City Fed President Esther George said on Wednesday the U.S. economy was approaching full employment and that the central bank should raise interest rates in the middle of this year. At a conference in Kansas City, George said she was "not overly concerned" with recent weak inflation, which has been dragged lower by the drop in oil prices.

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    The Federal Reserve struggled with the message being sent by its role in bank bailouts and worried about the impact of a bond-buying program aimed at easing the 2007-2009 financial crisis, according to transcripts released by the U.S. central bank on Wednesday.

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    WASHINGTON-- The Senate Banking Committee's chairman, Richard Shelby of Alabama, has indicated he plans to draft legislation to reform the Federal Reserve, significantly improving the chances of a bill reaching the floor of the upper chamber. After a hearing Tuesday on Fed reform, Shelby told Bloomberg News that he wants to work with Democrats on his committee to create a bipartisan bill. "I do see some interests that might be put together hopefully in a legislative package," he said.

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    The Federal Reserve struggled with the message being sent by its involvement in bank bailouts in 2009 and worried about its implementation of a bond-buying program aimed at easing the financial crisis, according to transcripts released by the U.S. central bank on Wednesday.

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    U.S. crude stocks rose more than twice as much as expected last week, while gasoline stocks increased and distillate inventories fell, data from the Energy Information Administration showed on Wednesday. Crude inventories rose by 10.3 million barrels in the last week to 444.37 million, compared with analysts' expectations for an increase of 4.2 million barrels.

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    Companies in the U.S. service sector such as insurers and real-estate firms grew at a slightly faster pace in February and beefed up employment, according to survey of senior executives. The Institute for Supply Management said its nonmanufacturing index edged up to 56.9% from 56.7% in January. Readings over 50% signal that more businesses are expanding instead of contracting.

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    WASHINGTON-- Companies in the U.S. service sector such as insurers and real-estate firms grew at a slightly faster pace in February and boosted employment to the highest level since last summer, according to survey of senior executives. The Institute for Supply Management said its nonmanufacturing index edged up to 56.9% from 56.7% in January. Readings over 50% signal that more businesses are expanding instead of contracting.

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    A top Federal Reserve official who wants the U.S. central bank to wait until early 2016 to raise interest rates suggested on Wednesday he would not necessarily oppose removing the Fed's vow to be "patient" on raising rates when policymakers meet later this month.