Isabel's Power Outages Drive Down Jobless Totals

September 25, 2003 ( - The good news in Thursday's government jobless report was that the number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits last week fell to the lowest level since February.

The bad news is that about half of the decline to 381,000 in the September 20 week from a revised 400,000 a week earlier was due to power outages in the wake of Hurricane Isabel that shuttered state offices in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, according to the US Department of Labor. The storm created havoc and left hundreds of thousands of people in the dark as it bulldozed its way up the east coast September 18.

The closely watched four-week moving average, regarded by economists as a truer market reflection because it irons out short-term volatility, fell to 407,000 in the September 20 week from 411,000 in the previous week, and was above the key 400,000 mark for the fourth straight report. Economists generally regard the 400,000 level as a dividing line between a healthy jobs market and a slumbering one.

Also, the number of people forced to cling to the jobless rolls dropped 28,000 to 3.63 million in the September 13 week. Wall Street economists participating in Reuters regular poll had forecast new claims fort the September 20 week at 400,000.

The analysts predicted the September payrolls report, due for an October 3 release, would show that the economy shed 15,000 non-farm jobs after losing 93,000 the month before (See  DoL: Market Hemorrhaged Jobs in August ). The employment rate is expected to rise to 6.2% after coming in at 6.1% in August.

The September 20 report followed jobless data for the previous week showing 399,000 people queued up for jobless benefits, down from a revised 428,000 the week before (See Jobless Claims Total Finally Heads South ).