U.S. Jobless Claims Rose Last Week, Showing Hurricanes' Effects -- Update

By Eric MorathFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

The number of Americans applying for new unemployment benefits rose last week, at least partially reflecting job loss due to hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Initial jobless claims, which reflect nationwide layoffs, rose by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,000 in the week ended Sept. 23, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had expected 275,000 new claims.

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The storms affected the number of claims filed in Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Texas and the Virgin Island, the department said.

The Labor Department didn't note any impact from Hurricane Maria, which struck Puerto Rico last week. Its claims were estimated by officials in Washington because government offices on the island were closed.

The four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out often volatile weekly data, rose by 9,000 to 277,750, the highest level since February 2016. Evacuations and power outages may mean storm-related jobless claims are spread out over several weeks.

Economists expect the storms to have caused job losses in the affected areas and slowed overall economic growth. But those trends are likely to reverse as rebuilding efforts get under way.

If the effect of the storms were removed, claims would still be tending at levels recorded in August, said Stephen Stanley, economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities.

"There is no reason to believe that the underlying labor picture has changed," he said. "We simply will need to be patient and wait for the hurricane effects to play out."

Despite the recent rise, overall jobless claims remain historically low. Weekly claims have held below 300,000 each week since March 2015, the longest such streak since the early 1970s.

The number of continuing unemployment benefit claims -- those drawn by workers for more than a week -- decreased by 45,000 to 1,934,000 in the week ended Sept. 16. Continuing claims are reported with a one-week lag.

Prior to the storms, the U.S. labor market appeared extremely healthy. The unemployment rate in August was near a 16-year low and job creation has been steady this year.

Write to Eric Morath at eric.morath@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 28, 2017 10:17 ET (14:17 GMT)