Not even Hurricane Harvey could break the country's two-and-a-half year low jobless claims streak.
New applications for unemployment benefits fell 14,000 to 284,000 in the first full week of September, the Labor Department reported Thursday, keeping the run of numbers below 300,000 intact.
After new claims spiked to just below 300,000 the week after Hurricane Harvey hit, forecasters had expected the number to drift further up this past week, finally breaking the barrier for the first time since February 2015.
Economists generally calculate that jobless claims below the 300,000 mark indicate that the unemployment rate will stay steady or fall.
The long low streak is a sign of the labor market's gathering strength over that time. Before the hurricanes struck, the new claims and the total number of people receiving unemployment benefits had been running at or near the lowest levels in decades.
At 4.4 percent, the unemployment rate is already low. Forecasters expect that, setting aside the temporary impact of the natural disasters, it is likely to go lower in the months ahead.
Both hurricanes Harvey and Irma affected Thursday's numbers, the Labor Department noted in its release. First-time claims in Texas have spike in the past two weeks.
In fact, the sub-300,000 new claims streak is likely to be broken in the weeks ahead. Many people in the Houston area likely have not had time yet, amid the crisis, to get to an agency to file unemployment claims, noted PNC chief economist Gus Faucher. Furthermore, workers temporarily off the job because of Irma in Florida have yet to file claims.
That could put a crimp in the next few month's jobs reports. The slowdown, however, shouldn't be a sign that the underlying growth of the country is imperiled. "The labor market is strong, and job growth should bounce back in the remaining months of 2017 and 2018 as rebuilding from the storms gets underway," said Faucher.