September 25, 2008 / 1:01 PM / 11 years ago

Jobless claims surge as hurricanes hit count

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for jobless benefits jumped 32,000 last week, with all of the increase due to the impact of hurricanes Ike and Gustav, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 493,000 in the week ended Sept 20 from a revised 461,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said. It was the highest reading since September 29, 2001, in the aftermath of attacks on New York and Washington.

“It is estimated that the effects of Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana and the effects of Hurricane Ike in Texas added approximately 50,000 claims to the total,” the Labor Department said in a statement.

Analysts polled by Reuters had forecast 448,000 new claims versus a previously reported count of 455,000 the week before.

Without Ike and Gustav, which pounded the Gulf coast earlier this month, initial claims would have been around 430,000 last week.

This estimate is calculated by subtracting the 50,000 claims blamed on the hurricanes from last week’s non-seasonally adjusted claims reading of 395,601, and seasonally adjusting the result.

The four-week average of new jobless claims, a better gauge of underlying labor trends because it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose to 462,500 from 446,500 the week before, the Labor Department said.

This was the highest reading since the week of November 3, 2001, signaling that the labor market remains weak regardless of the weather.

The measure has mounted steadily as the U.S. housing slump, and resulting strain in the financial services industry, has chilled growth and crimped hiring.

In addition, the number of people remaining on the benefits roll after drawing an initial week of aid increased 63,000 to 3.542 million in the week ended Sept 13, the most recent week for which data is available.

Analysts had estimated so-called continued claims would be 3.50 million. It was the 22nd straight week that claims were above 3 million, in another sign that the slowing economy is making it harder for U.S. workers to find jobs.

Reporting by Alister Bull, Editing by

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