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New jobless claims dropped 8,000 last week to 355,000

By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times –

WASHINGTON — New claims for jobless benefits fell to 355,000 last week, with the figure affected by Superstorm Sandy.

The Labor Department on Thursday said 8,000 fewer people applied for first-time unemployment benefits in the week that ended Saturday. The drop was better than expected by analysts.

That less-volatile four-week moving average increased last week by 3,250 to 370,250, indicating modest job growth. Economists say weekly claims of about 350,000 indicate strong job growth.

But it’s hard to read too much into last week’s data because of Sandy.

The storm, which hit the mid-Atlantic and Northeast hard on Oct. 29 and 30, had an impact on jobless claims, the Labor Department said. But it’s unclear whether it pushed them down or up.

Some states reported increases in claims due to people forced out of work by the storm. But at least one state was not able to process all its claims because of storm-related power outages. Details on those states will not be released until next week.

A Labor Department spokesman referred to the impact as a “mixed bag” and said the storm was expected to affect jobless claim numbers for the next couple of weeks.

Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities, said the storm probably held down jobless claims last week. He noted the four-week average was little changed and suggested the economic recovery was still struggling to gain momentum.

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