WASHINGTON -- Initial claims for unemployment benefits dropped again last week, to 393,000, as the jobs market continued to recover from Superstorm Sandy.
The new data came as a top Federal Reserve official estimated the devastating storm had a significant effect on the nation's economy.
New jobless claims were down 23,000 for the week that ended Saturday compared to the previous week, the Labor Department said Thursday.
It was the first time the figure had fallen below 400,000 since Sandy caused it to shoot up to 451,000 for the week ending Nov. 10, the highest level in more than a year and a half.
The less-volatile four-week average was 405,250, up 7,500 from the previous week's revised figure of 397,750.
Sandy, which hit the Northeast hard, was the reason claims have spiked after averaging about 371,000 for the four weeks before the storm hit.
William C. Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said Thursday that Sandy probably reduced the nation's overall economic output, or gross domestic product, by .25 to .50 of a percentage point in the last three months of the year.
The economy grew at a 2.7% annualized rate in the third quarter of the year.
"Normal economic activity in the final days of October and the first few days of November was severely disrupted," Dudley said in a speech at Pace University in New York City.
"The disruption then began to subside, but only recently has life begun to feel normal again," he continued. "The negative effects of this disruption have already been noted in economic indicators such as industrial production for the month of October and initial claims for unemployment insurance during the second and third weeks of November. "
He noted that even before the storm, the pace of economic growth had been "disappointing" since the recession technically ended in 2009. But Dudley said many parts of the Northeast had been showing stronger growth than the rest of the nation and he was "hopeful that Sandy will not have pushed us off this trajectory for long."
Since the large increase in new jobless claims caused by Sandy, the number has been falling as claims from hard-hit Northeastern states have been reduced.
For example, new claims were down 30,603 in New York for the week ending Nov. 17, the latest state-level figures available, the Labor Department said. There were fewer layoffs in the construction, transportation and food services industries in New York, three sectors affected by Sandy's rampage on Oct. 29-30.
For the week ending Nov. 10, Sandy had caused new claims to jump by 43,956 in New York, 31,094 in New Jersey, 7,037 in Pennsylvania and 1,808 in Connecticut.