Thursday, September 25, 2003

Jobless Claims Drop in Wake of Hurricane: "The number of idled workers seeking jobless benefits for the first time fell sharply last week, dragged down in the wake of Hurricane Isabel, to its lowest level since early February, the government said on Thursday.

"First-time claims, which give an early reading on the resilience of the labor market, fell steeper than expected to 381,000 in the Sept. 20 week, down from a revised 400,000 a week earlier, and to its lowest since 378,000 in the Feb. 8 week. ...

"About 50 percent of the decline is a result of the power outages from Hurricane Isabel that forced the closure of state offices in such areas as North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia," said a Labor Department spokesman. ...

"The closely watched four-week moving average, regarded by economists as a truer reflection of the market than the more volatile weekly figure, fell to 407,000 in the Sept. 20 week from 411,000 in the previous week, and was above the key 400,000 mark for the fourth straight week.

"Economists view claims above the 400,000 mark as a sign of a lackluster jobs market."

If that's a 4-week moving average, office closings in 3 of 50 states is unlikely the sole cause of the drop. With retail sales forecasts up for the end of this year, this is yet another sign pointing to a strengthening economy.

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