WASHINGTON — The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits soared last week by the most in nearly five years, driven by Hurricane Harvey's impact on Texas and Louisiana.
Weekly applications for jobless aid jumped 62,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000, reaching the highest level in two years, the Labor Department said Thursday. The less volatile four-week average rose to 250,250.
Applications soared by more than 51,000 in Texas, a five-fold increase, and ticked up 258 in Louisiana.
The number of Americans receiving unemployment benefits slipped 5,000 to 1.94 million. That's nearly 10 percent lower than a year earlier.
Americans who have lost jobs through no fault of their own can seek unemployment aid. Natural disasters can frequently cause spikes. Superstorm Sandy drove the last huge increase in applications in 2012.
Excluding the impact of the storm, the data suggest the job market remains healthy. Applications are a proxy for layoffs, and have hovered at historically low levels for two years. Many employers are complaining that they can't find qualified workers, which makes them less likely to cut their current staffs. As a result, Americans are enjoying a high degree of job security.
The economy accelerated this spring, fueled by strong consumer spending. It expanded at a 3 percent annual pace, after growing at less than half that rate in the first three months of the year.
Hiring slowed in August, when employers added 156,000 jobs, below last year's average monthly gains but still enough to lower the unemployment rate over time. Unemployment is at 4.4 percent, near a 16-year low.