updated 9/23/2004 8:58:20 AM ET 2004-09-23T12:58:20

The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits rose last week, mostly reflecting the impact of hurricanes that recently ripped through Florida.

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The Labor Department reported Thursday that new applications for unemployment insurance went up by a seasonally adjusted 14,000 to 350,000 for the week ending Sept. 18. A department analyst said most of last week's rise could be attributed to Hurricane Frances and to a lesser extent the lingering impact of Hurricane Charley, which tore through Florida, wreaking damage and forcing some businesses to close.

Hurricane-related claims have shown up after the storms as people were able to get out and file for benefits.

Last week's increase left claims at a higher than the 338,000 applications that some analysts were forecasting. Still, when compared with the same week last year, the layoffs picture looks somewhat better. A year ago, claims stood at 387,000, versus the current 350,000.

Citing some improvements in the economy, the Federal Reserve on Tuesday boosted a key short-term interest rate by one-quarter percentage point to 1.75 percent, its third increase this year.

The Fed said that after a slowdown in economic activity in the late spring, the economy appeared to have "regained some traction and labor market conditions have improved modestly."

The nation's payrolls picked up in August, expanding by 144,000, the most since May. Still, the economy is down a net 913,000 jobs since Bush took office in January 2001.

President Bush says making his tax cuts permanent will strengthen the economy and help job creation. His Democratic rival, John Kerry, says the president's tax cuts mainly helped the wealthy and haven't spurred significant job growth.

Congress, meanwhile, was moving ahead on a package extending several popular middle class tax cuts, which would provide Bush with a major legislative victory in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign.

Thursday's report also showed that the number of people continuing to collect unemployment benefits rose by 5,000 to 2.88 million for the week ending Sept. 11, the most recent period for which that information is available. A year ago, the number of people continuing to draw claims was 3.57 million.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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