WASHINGTON — Applications for U.S. unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 to a seasonally adjusted 363,000 last week, a level consistent with modest hiring.
The report comes just before Friday’s October jobs data, the last broad snapshot of the economy before the presidential election. The still-weak job market has been a top issue for voters.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications for unemployment aid, a less volatile gauge, fell to 367,250. The average has been around that level for three months.
A department spokesman said Superstorm Sandy had no effect on the number. The report covered the week ending Oct. 27, before the storm reached shore.
But the devastation and economic disruptions that the storm caused this week will likely increase applications for unemployment aid. Workers who have been laid off because of the storm are expected to seek benefits.
In some states, though, applications might decline if unemployment offices are closed or laid-off workers are unable to request benefits.
Weekly applications have fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 since January. During that time, employers have added an average of about 150,000 jobs a month. The unemployment rate has fallen from 8.3 percent in January to 7.8 percent in September.
But few expect unemployment to drop sharply in the months ahead, given the still-modest pace of hiring.
“We continue to see employment growth making little progress,” Bricklin Dwyer, an economist at BNP Paribas, said in a note to clients.
The total number of people seeking unemployment benefits rose to just over 5 million in the week that ended Oct. 13, the latest period for which figures are available. That’s up slightly from 4.9 million in the previous week.
The economy is growing too slowly to rapidly bring relief to roughly 12 million out-of-work Americans. With the unemployment rate still high, growth of more than 3 percent is generally needed to create enough jobs.
When the jobless rate fell to 7.8 percent in September, it was the first time the rate had fallen below 8 percent since January 2009, President Obama’s first month in office.
The rate fell in September because a government survey of households found a huge increase in the number of people who had jobs. Ajump in part-time employment accounted for most of the gain.