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Hurricane Isaac pushes US jobless claims up to 382,000

WASHINGTON--The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits jumped to the highest weekly level in two months, although the figures were skewed in part by Hurricane Isaac.

Applications increased by 15,000 to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, the Labor Department said Thursday. That's up from 367,000 the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, increased for the fourth-straight week to 375,000.

Isaac made landfall as Category 1 hurricane on Aug. 28 in Louisiana and was later downgraded to a tropical storm. It disrupted work in nine states and boosted applications by roughly 9,000, labor officials said.

Applications for unemployment benefits reflect the pace of layoffs.

The data on unemployment applications follow last week's weak August employment report. The report comes as the Federal Reserve concludes a two-day meeting Thursday. Many analysts expect the central bank will announce new steps to boost the economy, which could include a third round of Treasury bond purchases. The goal would be to lower interest rates and spur more borrowing and spending.

Jim O'Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said that after excluding the impact of the hurricane, applications are likely closer to 370,000. Still, the job market has shown little vigor this year.

“While today's reading was likely exaggerated, and we do not believe the labor market is weakening, the trend has been and still is weak enough to trigger more Fed easing today,” O'Sullivan said.

Employers added only 96,000 jobs in August, below July's gain of 141,000 and far below the average 226,000 a month added in the January-March quarter.

The unemployment rate dropped to 8.1 percent from 8.3 percent, but only because the number of people working or looking for work fell.

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