WASHINGTON -- More than 200,000 people have lost their jobs because of Hurricane Katrina, and more bad economic news is on the horizon as Hurricane Rita heads for the Texas Gulf Coast and the country's biggest collection of oil refineries.
The Labor Department yesterday increased the total number of job losses attributed to Katrina to 214,000, with 103,000 coming in just the last week. Overall jobless claims totaled 432,000 last week, the highest level in two years.
Some private economists believe up to a half-million people were thrown out of work by Katrina and they are forecasting the nation's unemployment rate, which had fallen to a four-year low of 4.9 percent in August, will climb when the September report is released on Oct. 7.
But in a sign that the economy was weakening even before Katrina, a closely followed economic forecasting gauge dipped for a second month in August, the Conference Board reported yesterday. Its index of Leading Economic Indicators index fell by 0.2 percent last month, with one of the negative factors being a drop in consumer expectations as Americans were hit by a new surge in gasoline prices even before Katrina hit.