Job Fair NY 2012 2
U.S. initial jobless claims declined in their most recent week, but the claims total is still higher than it would be normally, due to the impact of Hurricane Sandy. Reuters

The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell sharply last week, the Labor Department said Wednesday, though the number was still elevated due to Hurricane Sandy.

In the week ending Nov. 17, applications for unemployment insurance payments declined by 41,000 to a seasonally adjusted 410,000. The number of applications matched the median forecast of economists polled by Reuters. Claims in the previous week were revised to show an increase of 90,000 to 451,000, compared with the initial estimate that they rose 78,000 to 439,000.

“Our numbers are still distorted by Hurricane Sandy,” a Labor Department official said, according to Bloomberg. “There are still 'states filing excess claims'.”

The four-week moving average, which normally provides a better indication of the underlying trend in labor markets than the weekly number of jobless claims, rose by 9,500 to 396,250 for first-time benefit applicants. A reading below 400,000 is generally regarded by economists as a signal that employment is increasing.

The number of people filing for benefits after an initial week of aid increased fell by 30,000 to 3.34 million in the week ending Nov. 10. The continuing claims figure does not include the number of Americans receiving extended benefits under federal programs.

Applications in New York during the week ended Nov. 10 soared 43,956 and those in New Jersey jumped 31,094. Those data are reported with a one-week lag.

Job gains are of great importance, because they lead to income growth, and that supports consumer spending, which accounts for more than 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

Hiring increased last month, while the unemployment rate edged higher. The economy added 171,000 jobs in October, while the unemployment ticked up to 7.9 percent, from 7.8 percent in September.