The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits fell to more than a one-month low last week as claims in Texas and Florida continued to decline after being boosted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
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Initial claims for state unemployment benefits decreased 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 243,000 for the week ended Oct. 7, the lowest level since late August, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 2,000 fewer applications received than previously reported.
A Labor Department official said Harvey and Irma along with Hurricane Maria affected claims for Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition, claims for Virginia were estimated.
Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims falling to 251,000 in the latest week. Claims have been declining since surging to an almost three-year high of 298,000 at the start of September as workers displaced by the hurricanes were left temporarily unemployed.
As a result of Harvey and Irma, nonfarm payrolls dropped by 33,000 jobs last month, the first decrease in employment in seven years. A rebound in job growth is expected in October, boosted by the return of the dislocated workers as well as the start of rebuilding and clean-up efforts in storm-ravaged areas.
Underscoring the labor market's underlying strength, claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 136 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.
The labor market is near full employment, with the jobless rate at more than a 16-1/2-year low of 4.2 percent.
The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 9,500 to 257,500 last week.
The claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid dropped 32,000 to 1.89 million in the week ended Sept. 30, the lowest level since December 1973.
The so-called unadjusted continuing claims for Texas and Florida fell, suggesting some of the workers affected by Harvey and Irma had returned to their jobs. The unemployment rate among people receiving jobless benefits fell one-tenth of a percentage point to 1.3 percent.
Overall continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 26 straight weeks, indicating that labor market slack continues to diminish. The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 11,500 to 1.93 million, remaining below the 2 million level for the 24th consecutive week. (Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)