U.S. jobless claims increase more than expected

Applicants wait to fill out paperwork at a Lowe's store in Katy, Texas as Lowe's looks to hire more employees for their Houston and southern Texas stores in the aftermath of tropical storm Harvey, September 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, reflecting the lingering effects of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 272,000 for the week ended Sept. 23, the Labor Department said on Thursday. Data for the prior week was revised to show 1,000 more applications received than previously reported.

A Labor Department official said Harvey and Irma affected claims for Texas, Florida, Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Unadjusted claims for Florida increased by 8,160 last week, while filings in Texas fell by 8,218. Unadjusted claims for Georgia rose by 3,157 last week.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 270,000 in the latest week. The storms have impacted the claims data in recent weeks and are expected to cut into job growth this month. Still, the labor market remains strong.

Claims have now been below the 300,000 threshold, which is associated with a robust labor market, for 134 straight weeks. That is the longest such stretch since 1970, when the labor market was smaller.

The four-week moving average of claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, rose 9,000 to 277,750 last week, the highest level since February 2016.

Thursday’s claims report also showed the number of people still receiving benefits after an initial week of aid fell 45,000 to 1.93 million in the week ended Sept. 16. The so-called continuing claims have now been below the 2 million mark for 24 straight weeks, pointing to diminishing labor market slack.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims dropped 2,750 to 1.95 million, remaining below the 2 million level for the 22nd consecutive week. The continuing claims data covered the survey period for September’s employment rate.

The four-week moving average of continuing claims fell 2,500 between the August and September survey weeks, suggesting little change in the unemployment rate. The jobless rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point to 4.4 percent in August.

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao