WASHINGTON – The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell by 12,000 last week to 260,000, as claims returned to more normal levels following the disruptions caused by Hurricane Irma in Florida and Georgia.
THE NUMBERS: The Labor Department said Thursday that the less-volatile four-week average declined by 9,500 to 268,250. Overall, the number of Americans collecting unemployment checks has fallen 6.2 percent over the past year to 1.94 million.
KEY DRIVERS: In the aftermath of Irma, claims had risen sharply in Florida and Georgia two weeks ago but fell last week by 26.8 percent in Georgia and 20.4 percent in Florida. Claims were also down in Texas, dropping by 15.1 percent from the previous week as benefit applications returned to more normal levels in that state following Hurricane Harvey.
THE TAKEAWAY: Unemployment claims are a proxy for layoffs. Despite the impact of the storms, the overall level of claims remains low, suggesting that most American workers enjoy job security. The unemployment rate is at 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low.
The government will release the September employment report on Friday. The expectation is that the economy created around 100,000 jobs and the unemployment rate held steady at 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low.
So far this year, the economy has added an average of 176,000 jobs a month, solid but down from 187,000 a month last year and 226,000 a month in 2015. Many businesses complain that they can't find enough workers.