Ahead Of The Bell: US Unemployment Benefits

By The Associated Press

Fewer Americans likely sought unemployment benefits last week, a third straight decline that suggests the impact of Superstorm Sandy has largely faded. Applications are probably back to levels consistent with modest hiring.

Economists forecast that weekly applications fell by 11,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 382,000, according to a survey by FactSet. The Labor Department will release the report at 8:30 a.m. EST Thursday.

Weekly applications have fallen steadily in the previous two weeks. The decline comes after Sandy caused a huge spike in claims a month ago. Sandy tore through the East Coast on Oct. 29, shutting down businesses and cutting off power to 8 million homes.

Applications rose by 90,000 to 451,000 in the week ended Nov. 10. Nearly all of the gains were in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.

People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces are forced to close and they aren't paid.

Before the storm, weekly applications had fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. That has coincided with only modest declines in the unemployment rate.

The storm is also likely to depress November's job figures, which the government will report Friday. And fears over looming tax increases and spending cuts, known as the "fiscal cliff," may have also dragged on job gains last month.

Economists expect employers added 110,000 jobs in November, according to FactSet. And they think the unemployment rate will remain 7.9 percent.

Some analysts expect much lower job gains, roughly 25,000 to 50,000, because of Sandy and anxiety over the fiscal cliff.

Still, most analysts say the underlying economy remains healthy and is creating jobs at a modest but steady pace.

Without the depressive effects of Superstorm Sandy and the cliff, many think employers would have added up to 200,000 jobs last month â¿¿ even stronger than the solid 171,000 jobs added in October. And it would be better than the 174,000 jobs a month averaged in the July-September quarter.

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