U.S. Jobless Claims Spike to 432K

Hurricane Katrina's (search) aftermath fueled a surge in initial U.S. claims for jobless aid last week to 432,000, the highest level in more than two years, the government said Thursday.

The number of Americans requesting first-time unemployment benefits rose a relatively modest 8,000 the week ended Sept. 17 after a revised 97,000 jump the prior week. The previous week's change was the biggest seasonally adjusted one-week jump since July 25, 1992.

Private economists had expected claims would rise to 440,000 from the Labor Department's (search) original reading of 398,000 in the Sept. 10 week.

Unadjusted for seasonal factors, jobless claims linked to the deadly storm that claimed more than 1,000 lives and wreaked havoc on infrastructure totaled 103,000 last week and 91,000 the week before.

A Labor Department analyst said many of the claims had been filed by unconventional means, which may lead to future revisions in the numbers. Katrina's effects on the claims data are likely to linger for some weeks.

The four-week moving average of claims (search), a more reliable barometer because it smooths weekly volatility, rose to its highest level since Nov. 8, 2003.

The moving average of claims rose to 376,250 from 347,250 the previous week.