The number of new people signing up for jobless benefits (search) rose last week, reflecting the impact of Hurricane Charley (search), which recently tore through Florida.

The Labor Department (search) reported Thursday that new applications for unemployment insurance increased by a seasonally adjusted 10,000 to 343,000 for the week ending Aug. 21. Half of the 10,000 rise was attributed to claims stemming from the hurricane, a Labor Department analyst said.

The increase in claims last week was larger than the rise economists were expecting. Some predicted that claims would increase by around 4,000. The 343,000 level of claims was the highest since July 24.

The more stable, four-week moving average of claims, which smooths out week-to-week fluctuations, dipped last week by 750 to 336,750.

The recovery in the labor market has been uneven, a source of frustration for jobseekers.

Job growth slowed dramatically in July with the economy adding just 32,000 jobs, the slowest pace since December, according to a government report released in early August.

Nevertheless, the Federal Reserve (search) opted to raise short-term interest rates at its regularly scheduled meeting on Aug. 10, a few days after the report. But Fed policy-makers acknowledged that "the pace of improvement in labor market conditions has slowed."

The Fed blamed the slowdown seen in economic activity in the spring and early summer on soaring energy prices, which more recently have begun to moderate. Fed policy-makers said they believed economic activity would pick up in the months ahead. Economists are hoping that job growth also will show an improvement when the government's employment report for August is released next week.

President Bush says the best way to spur job growth is to make his tax cut permanent, which he believes will help the economy strengthen. His Democratic rival, John Kerry, contends, that the loss of 1.1 million jobs since Bush took office shows the president's economic policies aren't working.

Thursday's report also showed that the number of workers continuing to draw jobless benefits rose by 5,000 to 2.9 million for the week ending Aug. 14, the most recent period for which that information is available. While the figure suggests that companies aren't on a major hiring spree, it is an improvement from the same period a year ago, when continuing claims stood at 3.6 million.