WASHINGTON Superstorm Sandy drove the number of people seeking unemployment benefits up to a seasonally adjusted 439,000 last week, the highest level in 18 months.
The Labor Department said Thursday that weekly applications increased by 78,000 mostly because a large number of applications were filed in states damaged by the storm.
People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces close and they don’t get paid.
The storm has affected the claims data for the past two weeks and may distort reports for another two weeks, the department has said.
Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Capital Markets, said a similar jump in applications occurred after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We should see a full retracement of this increase in coming weeks,” he said. Applications were declining before the storm, he added, “though levels are consistent with moderate, rather than strong, job growth.”
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile number, increased to 383,750.