Hurricane Impact Drives Up Jobless Claims

Thu Sep 23, 2004
By Glenn Somerville

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans lining up to claim an initial week of jobless aid climbed more than expected last week, primarily because of hurricanes that have battered Florida, putting many people out of work, the government said on Thursday.

First-time claims for state unemployment aid increased by 14,000 to 350,000 in the week ended Sept. 18 from a revised 336,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said in its weekly report. Wall Street economists had forecast the level of claims would rise to a smaller 340,000.

"The increase is ... mostly hurricane-related," a department spokesman said. "It can be related to the recent hurricanes in Florida."

The claims data have been whipsawed in recent weeks by the impact of repeated violent storms that have lashed Florida and other Southeastern states.

A department spokesman said last week's claims number primarily reflected Hurricanes Charley and Frances and that Hurricane Ivan, which struck a week ago and caused widespread damage, has yet to make its presence felt on claims.

Analysts say the claims data have been hard to interpret in recent weeks. Large numbers of people have faced repeated evacuations from Florida and other parts of the Southeast during the past month, in some cases delaying filing of claims, and the volatility may persist for several more weeks.

Financial markets showed a muted reaction to the data, though bond prices edged up afterward.

A four-week moving average of initial claims, which irons short-term volatility, edged up to 341,000 from 339,000 -- still a level that economists associate with moderate hiring.

Wall Street economists said the fact that the Labor Department acknowledged the report was affected by hurricanes underlined the difficulty in trying to draw many conclusions from it about the health of the labor market.

"It sort of immediately flashes a warning light (that) you just don't want to read too much into the weekly increase," said economist Alan Ruskin of 4CAST Inc. in New York, adding: "It's consistent with an economy probably growing at somewhere close to 3 percent, perhaps a shade under rather than much above."

The number of people who remained on state unemployment rolls after claiming an initial week of jobless claims edged up to 2.88 million.



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