WASHINGTON -- The number of initial jobless claims fell to their lowest level in 17 months, the Labor Department announced today.

New claims for state unemployment insurance fell by 28,000 to 379,000 in the week ending July 13. This followed a revised 407,000 in the prior week, marking the lowest level hit since the week ending Feb. 17, 2001 with a total of 355,000, the Department report said.

The number of initial claims fell more sharply than Wall Street expectations -- a drop to 396,000.