The number of Americans who have lost jobs from a string of devastating hurricanes rose to 599,700 last week as the effects of Katrina and Rita continued to be felt months after they slammed ashore.
The Labor Department attributed 7,000 claims last week to Katrina, which struck near New Orleans on Aug. 29 and Rita, which hit near the Texas-Florida border on Sept. 24. Wilma, which hit Florida on Oct. 24, resulted in an additional 700 claims last week.
The 7,700 total of storm-related claims was the lowest weekly figure since the government began tracking the hurricanes’ impact on the labor market in the first week of September. Total claims for unemployment benefits increased by 6,000 last week to 327,000, a figure seen as indicating a healthy labor market.
The figure for total jobless claims was slightly higher than the 318,000 claims that analysts had been expecting. However, the figure was still viewed as consistent with their belief that the labor market remains healthy as the economy continues to grow at a solid pace.
Part of last week’s overall increase of 6,000 claims was attributed to additional workers filing for benefits after the Thanksgiving holidays, when unemployment claims offices were on a short work week.
Last Friday, the government reported that U.S. businesses hired 215,000 new workers in November, the biggest gain in four months and a sign that the labor market was regaining its footing after a two-month lull reflecting hurricane disruptions.
The surge in job growth led President Bush to declare that the country’s “economic horizon is as bright as it’s been in a long time.” Bush is hoping that the rebounding economy will bolster consumer confidence and help him combat the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency.
The big jump in employment, which helped keep the jobless rate at 5 percent in November, was one of a number of stronger-than-expected economic statistics in recent days.
The government also reported last week that the overall economy grew at a brisk annual rate of 4.3 percent in the July-September quarter, leading some analysts to say growth would have been a sizzling 5 percent during that period if it had not been for the adverse effects of the hurricanes.