WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of people seeking unemployment benefits fell last week by 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 355,000, a possible sign of a healing job market. But officials cautioned that the figures were distorted by Superstorm Sandy.
The Labor Department said Thursday that the four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, rose by 3,250 to 370,500.
The storm could affect weekly applications for up to four weeks, a Labor spokesman said.
Applications declined in one state last week because power outages prevented officials from receiving applications. The spokesman wouldn't identify the state. The storm also pushed applications in other states up because some people who could not go to work sought benefits.
Most economists expect applications will rise in the coming weeks. Jill Brown, an economist at Credit Suisse, said that large hurricanes have historically pushed up applications by about 4 percent. That suggests they could reach 390,000.
If applications stay below 360,000 after the storm's effects fade, it would be a good sign for the job market.
Weekly applications have fluctuated between 360,000 and 390,000 since January. At the same time, employers have added an average of nearly 157,000 jobs a month. That's only been enough to lower the unemployment rate slowly. It has declined to 7.9 percent from 8.3 percent this year. And some of the decline was because more people gave up looking for work and weren't counted as unemployed.