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Initial jobless reports fall sharply

WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking US unemployment aid fell sharply last week as a temporary spike caused by super-storm Sandy has faded. Weekly applications have fallen back to a level consistent with modest hiring.

The Labor Department said Thursday that applications dropped 25,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 370,000.

Applications for unemployment spiked a month ago after Sandy shuttered businesses in the Northeast. Applications jumped to 451,000 in the week ended Nov. 10. People can claim unemployment benefits if their workplaces are forced to close and they aren't paid.

Some analysts were encouraged by how quickly applications returned to prestorm levels. Pierre Ellis, an economist at Decision Economics, said the rapid drop suggests companies are quickly rehiring workers displaced by the storm. Rebuilding efforts could also be creating jobs, he said.


The report is ''a positive development for the labor market, which appears to be recovering from the temporary effects of Sandy more rapidly than originally anticipated,'' Deutsche Bank economist Joseph La­Vorgna said in a note to clients.

The early impact of Sandy can still be seen in the four-week average. It rose to 408,000 last week.

Before the storm hit Oct. 29, applications had fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000, after topping 400,000 for most of last year, and coincided with only modest drops in the unemployment rate.

The storm is also likely to depress November's job figures, which the government will report Friday. And fears over the looming tax increases and spending cuts known as the ''fiscal cliff'' may have also dragged on job gains.

Economists expect employers added 110,000 jobs last month, according to FactSet, and think the unemployment rate will remain 7.9 percent.

Some analysts expect much lower job gains, roughly 25,000 to 50,000, because of Sandy and anxiety over the fiscal cliff.


Still, most analysts say the underlying economy remains healthy and is creating jobs at a modest but steady pace.

Without the depressive effects of Sandy and the cliff, many think employers would have added up to 200,000 jobs last month — even stronger than October's solid 171,000.

The number of people continuing to receive unemployment aid also fell, to just under 5 million in the week ended Nov. 17, the latest available.