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U.S. unemployment aid applications drop to 370K

WASHINGTON – The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment aid fell sharply last week as a temporary spike caused by Superstorm Sandy has faded. Weekly applications have fallen back to a level consistent with modest hiring.

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

Unemployment aid applications 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.

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

Before the storm hit on Oct. 29, applications had fluctuated this year between 360,000 and 390,000. That has coincided with only modest declines in the unemployment rate.

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

Economists expect employers added 110,000 jobs in November, according to FactSet. And they 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 Superstorm Sandy and the cliff, many think employers would have added up to 200,000 jobs last month — even stronger than the solid 171,000 jobs added in October. And it would be better than the 174,000 jobs a month averaged in the July-September quarter.

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