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Fewer Seek US Jobless Aid As Storm Distorts Data

CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

WASHINGTON (AP) â¿¿ The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid remained elevated for a second straight week because Superstorm Sandy forced many people to seek temporary benefits.

The Labor Department said Wednesday that first-time applications for benefits fell by 41,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 410,000. That offset only part of the previous week's surge.

Two weeks ago, the storm drove applications up by 90,000 to 451,000, an 18-month high. Nearly 44,000 people in New York and 31,000 in New Jersey applied for benefits that week, according to the latest state data available. People in Pennsylvania and Connecticut also sought benefits because of the storm.

Workers can claim unemployment benefits if their employers are forced to close and they aren't paid. Sandy could keep applications higher for another week, department officials say.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose by 9,500 to 396,250.

Before the storm, weekly applications had fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. At the same time, employers added an average of nearly 157,000 jobs a month. That's barely enough to lower the unemployment rate, which was 7.9 percent in October.

The storm should also slow job growth in November, economists said. That's because the government calculates monthly job gains by subtracting layoffs and people who quit from overall hiring. In addition to the temporary increase in layoffs, some companies probably delayed hiring because of the storm.

Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank, said that net job gains could fall to 25,000 this month from 171,000 in October. But employment should rebound after the impact of the storm passes. Rebuilding efforts after the storm could even create some jobs.

"If there is any good news in this extremely tragic event it is that the longer term impacts on the labor market in particular and the economy in general are negligible," he said.

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