Hurricane Katrina drove thousands of people from their jobs, and economists say the jobs picture will worsen before it improves.
In September, 35,000 nonfarm jobs were lost, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, but economists had estimated 150,000 lost jobs in the wake of the Aug. 29 Gulf Coast disaster. They point out, however, that the job loss figure from September could be revised downward because unemployment data from Louisiana and Mississippi are still coming in to Washington.
"When you look at these numbers, and you see the devastation and you see the initial jobless claims every week, you know [lower] numbers eventually have to show up. It's inevitable," Anthony Chan, senior economist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, told SmartMoney.com. Chan called Friday's Labor Department report "totally inconsistent" with weekly unemployment filings and the scale of the natural disasters.
In preparation for the expected increase in claims, the Labor Department has announced that $63 million would be provided to boost states' unemployment compensation systems.
In the end, the Congressional Budget Office believes that Katrina, along with the Hurricane Rita on Sept. 24, will result in 293,000 and 480,000 lost jobs. For information and eligibility requirements about Disaster Unemployment Assistance, which is open to those who lost jobs in federal disaster areas, go to http://www.doleta.gov/Katrina/LNKDetails.cfm?lnkid=4
The September figures show that 80,000 jobs were lost in leisure and hospitality industries and 88,000 jobs were lost in retail. The unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent. Some areas gained jobs last month – 52,000 new jobs in professional and business services, 49,000 in education and health and 31,000 in the government.
Economists say that the true impact of both hurricanes will show up in the October jobs report set for a Nov. 4 release. Even though job losses will get worse before they get better, some observers believe the U.S. economy is strong.
"Hurricane Katrina undoubtedly devastated individuals and communities in the Gulf Coast, but on a macro-economic basis it's clear that the U.S. economy has more than enough momentum to absorb the hit and recover quickly," said economist Bill Cheney of John Hancock Financial Services Inc. in Boston, according to Reuters.