Fewer seek US jobless aid as storm distorts data

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by CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER / AP Economics Writer

KING5.com

Posted on November 21, 2012 at 8:28 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply to a seasonally adjusted 410,000 last week, though the figure was elevated for the second straight week by Superstorm Sandy.

The Labor Department says applications dropped 41,000 from the previous week, when the storm drove applications to their highest level in 18 months. The four week average, a less volatile measure, rose 9,500 to 396,250.

Sandy could distort the data for another week, department officials say. The storm caused nearly 44,000 people in New York and 31,000 in New Jersey to seek unemployment aid two weeks ago, the latest state data available.

Before the storm, applications fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 for most of this year. At the same time, the unemployment rate fell from 8.3 percent to 7.9 percent.

There are some signs the job market is improving. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October and hiring in August and September was stronger than first estimated, the department said earlier this month.

The economy gained an average of 174,000 jobs a month in the July-September quarter. That's up from 67,000 a month in April through June.

The unemployment rate rose slightly in October because more Americans began looking for work. That suggests some felt their chances of finding a job had improved. Not all of them were hired, which pushed up the unemployment rate.

The government only counts people as unemployed if they are actively searching for work.

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