More Americans than forecast filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, a sign improvement in the labor market remains uneven. Jobless claims increased by 4,000 to 371,000 in the week ended Jan. 5, U.S. Labor Department figures showed today in Washington. The median forecast of economists called for a drop to 365,000. The prior week’s figures were revised to 367,000 from an initially reported 372,000. A consistent decline in firings, along with a rise in payrolls, is needed to put a spark in consumer spending, the biggest part of the economy. While an agreement reached by Congress this month averted sweeping tax increases and delayed budget cuts that threatened the expansion, the impending battle over the debt limit may weigh on the outlook for jobs. Estimates in the survey of economists ranged from 340,000 to 380,000. No state data were estimated, according to a department official, who said there was "nothing unusual" in the figures. The four-week moving average, a less volatile measure than the weekly figures, climbed to 365,750 last week from 359,000.