The number of people putting in for new jobless claims dropped to the lowest level since February, the Labor Department said.

The level of new claims plunged by 29,000 to 386,000 in the July 19 week, down from a revised 415,000 in the prior week.

New claims were far below the expectations of many analysts for 413,000 new claims, and the lowest since the week of February 8. It was the first time initial claims fell below the critical 400,000 mark, a level viewed by economists as the sign of a soft jobs market. Claims had been above 400,000 for 22 straight weeks.