Hurricane Sandy Three Weeks Later: How Its Impacting Jobs

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The monster super-storm that rampaged through much of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast in late October not only left thousands homeless, but also has led to a surge of new claims for jobless benefits, according to Labor Department figures released late last week.

While the aftermath has spawned some employment opportunities related to cleanup and relief efforts, so far any of those gains have been outweighed by the negative impact on the workforce. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose 78,000 to a seasonally adjusted 439,000, the highest level since April 2011. Labor Department analysts confirmed that several states from the mid-Atlantic and Northeast reported large increases in claims due to Sandy.

The storm surely served as major distraction to some involved with hiring, particularly for companies located in Lower Manhattan or some of the other hard-hit areas of New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.  And countless job seekers may have been forced to put their search on hold to deal with damage or loss of power in the wake of the storm.  With the job market still tight and the so-called Fiscal Cliff  looming,  Sandy just adds to the challenge lawmakers and business leaders face with getting consistent job growth back on track.

Yet those who study the job market generally agree that severe storms typically have a temporary impact in the U.S.  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that economists predict the effects of the storm could lower the U.S. growth rate in the fourth quarter by 0.2 %, but that those losses will likely be made up early next year as rebuilding of the heavily damaged areas begins in earnest.

Constructions jobs and demand for materials are expected to increase significantly as that rebuilding accelerates.  “It’s the most adverse way you ever want to see positive growth,” Tom Jeffery, chief hazard scientist for CoreLogic Inc. recently told Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “But a high percent of damaged properties are going to be repaired.”

Meanwhile, the storm did create a wave of immediate opportunity for some job seekers. Type in the words Hurricane Sandy on just about any online job board, and a lengthy list of  opportunities appear, ranging from “Forensic engineers for post Sandy investigations” to dump truck drivers, home inspectors and relief-center case workers.

Also, in some instances, unemployed workers can apply for storm recovery jobs. The U.S. Department of Labor recently approved a $15.6 million National Emergency Grant to fund Gov Chris Christie’s plan to get some unemployed New Jersey residents helping with the recovery efforts.

Applicants must have been unemployed for more than six months and have exhausted their unemployment benefits, or were displaced temporarily or permanently from their job due to Sandy.

Sandy was far from your typical storm. It left deep suffering and sorrow in its path—and spawned remarkable acts of kindness and compassion as neighbors and strangers alike reached out to help those hardest hit. Hopefully, that suffering will not be compounded by a long-term impact on valuable jobs and our economy.

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