updated 11/23/2005 8:48:00 AM ET 2005-11-23T13:48:00

The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits last week rose sharply, suggesting that the labor market is still trying to gain traction after being knocked by a trio of Gulf Coast hurricanes.

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The Labor Department reported Wednesday that new applications for unemployment insurance jumped by a seasonally adjusted 30,000 to 335,000 for the week ending Nov. 19. In the prior week, new filings for jobless benefits registered a large decline.

Last week’s increase left claims at their highest point since the middle of October. Economists were expecting claims to total around 312,000.

Hurricane-related job losses edged up last week to 21,000 — but are well below their peak posted in September. Last week’s increase brought the total number of layoffs related to Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma over the last 12 weeks to 582,400.

Wednesday’s report also showed that the more stable four-week moving average of overall jobless claims, which smoothes out weekly fluctuations, rose to 323,250 last week, an increase of 1,250 from the previous week.

And, the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits increased by a seasonally adjusted 59,000 to 2.82 million for the week ending Nov. 12, the most recent period for which that information is available.

The Federal Reserve, more worried about inflation than a serious economic slowdown in the aftermath of the hurricanes, boosted interest rates on Nov. 1 and signaled higher borrowing costs in the months ahead. Analysts predict another rate increase at the Fed’s next meeting, Dec. 13, the last scheduled session for 2005.

Fed policy-makers at their November meeting said the hurricanes only “temporarily depressed” employment and production.

In September, employment declined for the first time in two years; in October payrolls grew by just 56,000. Economists, however, are hopeful that a more robust rebound in job growth will be seen for November. The government releases the November employment report early next month.

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