Hurricanes Drive Weekly Jobless Claims Up

The number of Americans lining up to claim an initial week of jobless aid climbed more than expected last week, primarily because of hurricanes that have battered Florida, putting many people out of work, the government said on Thursday.

First-time claims for state unemployment aid (search) increased by 14,000 to 350,000 in the week ended Sept. 18 from a revised 336,000 the prior week, the Labor Department (search) said in its weekly report. Wall Street economists had forecast the level of claims would rise to a smaller 340,000.

"The increase is hurricane-related mostly hurricane-related," a department spokesman said. "It can be related to the recent hurricanes in Florida."

The claims data have been whipsawed in recent weeks by the impact of repeated hurricanes that have lashed Florida and other Southeastern states. A department spokesman said last week's claims number primarily reflected hurricanes Charley and Frances and that Hurricane Ivan (search), which struck a week ago and caused widespread damage, has yet to make its presence felt on claims.

A four-week moving average of initial claims, which smooths short-term volatility, edged up to 341,000 from 339,000 — still a level that economists associate with moderate hiring.

The number of people who remained on state unemployment rolls after claiming an initial week of jobless claims edged up to 2.88 million.