WASHINGTON — The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell 23,000 to a seasonally adjusted 393,000 last week. It was the second straight drop after Superstorm Sandy had driven applications much higher earlier this month.
A Labor Department analyst said Thursday that the storm had little effect on last week’s data. Applications had spiked to 451,000 three weeks ago after Sandy struck the East Coast, closing businesses in the Northeast and cutting off power to 8 million homes in 10 states.
The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose to 405,250 last week. That figure has been elevated by the storm.
Superstorm Sandy made landfall Oct. 29. The government said last week that the storm caused benefit applications to jump by 75,000 in just New York and New Jersey in the week that ended Nov. 10. Applications also rose in Connecticut and Pennsylvania because of Sandy.
The department said Thursday that applications fell by about 31,000 in New York in the week that ended Nov. 17 and were little changed in New Jersey.
Several recent reports suggest that the job market is improving. Employers added 171,000 jobs in October, a step up from September’s gain of 148,000. Hiring in August and September was also stronger than first estimated.
The economy gained an average of 174,000 jobs a month in the July-September quarter. That’s up from 67,000 a month April through June.
The total number of people receiving benefits fell to just below 5.2 million in the week that ended Nov. 10, the latest period for which data are available.
That’s about 60,000 fewer than in the previous week. Some of the decline might have occurred because recipients found jobs. But some also probably used up all the benefits available to them.
Superstorm Sandy may also slow growth in the current October-December quarter. Economists forecast that growth may drop to an annual rate below 2 percent in the final three months of the year. On Thursday, the government revised its estimate of third-quarter growth to 2.7 percent, from an original estimate of 2 percent.
Concerns about the “fiscal cliff,” the package of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect early next year, may also drag on growth in the current quarter. But if Congress and the White House reach a deal to replace the fiscal cliff, growth could accelerate next year.