A job fair at Rutgers University.
A job fair at Rutgers University. Reuters

The number of Americans lining up for new jobless benefits fell slightly last week to 370,000, but remained above levels posted earlier this year, the Labor Department said Thursday. While matching economists' forecasts, the figure suggests improvement in the labor market is stalling.

Claims from two weeks ago were revised up to 372,000 from an initial reading of 370,000. The four-week moving average for jobless claims in the week ended May 19, meanwhile, fell by 5,500 to 370,000. Continuing claims decreased by 17,250 to 3.27 million in the week ended May 12.

Many economists say they believe that an unseasonably mild winter bolstered payroll growth and lowered claims for jobless benefits earlier in the year. The recent stagnation is viewed as payback for those gains. However, the longer jobless claims stay at elevated levels, the more likely it is that an underlying deterioration in the labor market is occurring, hurting President Barack Obama's chance of reclaiming the White House.