Hurricane Impact Drives Up
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
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.