WASHINGTON – The number of Americans filing applications for new unemployment benefits fell in late September, though recent hurricanes continued to disrupt economic activity in some regions.
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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., declined by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 260,000 in the week ended Sept. 30, reversing a jump during the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 270,000 new claims last week.
Despite storm-related gyrations, "we have no reason to think that the underlying labor market has changed much since August," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note to clients.
Claims surged in recent weeks due to job losses from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The Labor Department said claims data last week for Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Texas and the U.S. Virgin Islands were affected by the storms. Officials had to estimate a figure for Puerto Rico, and "they might just have been much too conservative," Mr. Shepherdson said.
More broadly, claims have remained at historically low levels for several years, a sign of health in the U.S. labor market. Even with the recent storm-fueled jump, jobless claims have remained below 300,000 a week for 135 straight weeks, the longest such streak since 1970 -- when the U.S. population and workforce were far smaller than they are today.
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Data on jobless claims can be volatile from week to week. The four-week moving average for initial claims fell by 9,500 last week to 268,250.
The number of claims drawn by workers longer than a week rose 2,000 to 1.938 million in the week ended Sept. 23. Data on continuing claims are released with a one-week lag.
The Labor Department on Friday will release its September jobs report, which could also show hurricane-related distortions. Economists have predicted a modest 80,000 new nonfarm jobs and an unemployment rate steady at 4.4%. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands aren't counted in national employment data, though the storm-battered territories were included in Thursday's jobless-claims figures.
Write to Ben Leubsdorf at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 05, 2017 09:47 ET (13:47 GMT)