WASHINGTON-The number of Americans filing applications for new unemployment benefits fell last week, despite hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico beginning to process its backlog of stalled applications.
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Initial jobless claims, a proxy for layoffs across the U.S., fell by 5,000 to a seasonally adjusted 229,000 in the week ended Oct. 28, the Labor Department said Thursday.
Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected 235,000 new claims last week.
This drop in unemployment benefit applications comes after Puerto Rico began processing a backlog of applications the U.S. territory built up in the aftermath of recent hurricanes, the department said. Power outages and infrastructure damage in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands caused many applying for unemployment benefits to submit paper applications, a Labor Department economist said.
Though the ability to process claims has improved in Puerto Rico, the claims-taking procedure remains disrupted in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
This caused what usually would have been a spike in claims in after the storms to slow to a trickle.
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Nationally, jobless are trending near a 44-year low, showing the overall health of the labor market. Claims numbers have remained below 300,000 a week for more than two and a half years.
Jobless claims data can be volatile. The four-week moving average, a steadier measure, fell 7,250 to 232,500 last week, the lowest level since 1973.
The number of claims workers made for longer than a week also dropped, falling to 1,884,000 in the week ended Oct. 21, which is reported along with last week's data because continuing claims are released with a one-week lag. That is also the lowest level since 1973.
The unemployment rate dipped to 4.2% in September, the lowest reading in 16 years, despite U.S. nonfarm employers shedding jobs for the first time since September 2010. The hemorrhaged jobs are likely a reflection of hurricane-related economic disruptions that affected other parts of the country, though Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands aren't included in national employment data.
The Labor Department's latest report on jobless claims can be accessed at: https://www.dol.gov/ui/data.pdf
Write to Sharon Nunn at Sharon.Nunn@wsj.com and Eric Morath at Eric.Morath@wsj.com.
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 02, 2017 08:45 ET (12:45 GMT)