The number of new claims for jobless benefits fell more sharply last week than expected, but failed to slide below the key 400,000 mark where it has stayed for five weeks, the Labor Department said on Thursday.

Initial claims for state unemployment insurance benefits fell 34,000 to 400,000 in the week ended June 16 from a revised 434,000 in the prior week, defying Wall Street projections for a modest drop to 423,000 from the unrevised measure of 428,000 in the June 9 week, a government report showed. 

Claims for the June 9 week were revised to 434,000. 

The Labor Department had no anecdotal evidence to explain the drop, Cindy Ambler, a Labor spokeswoman, said. 

First-time applications have hovered around the 400,000 benchmark — a sign of a softening labor market — for five straight weeks, the longest run since a similar string from August 29, 1992 to September 26, 1992. 

The four-week moving average, closely watched by economists because it smooths out weekly volatility, fell to 422,500 in the week ended June 16 from 425,250 the prior week. 

Continued claims — an indication that people are staying unemployed — nearly breached the 3 million level, rising to 2.99 million the June 9 week, the latest week for which data are available, from 2.92 million previously. 

For the past three weeks, continued claims have flirted with the 3 million mark. 

In the week ended June 9, the latest for which state-by-state figures are available, the department said 19 states and Puerto Rico reported increases in claims exceeding 1,000, led by North Carolina with 9,550 additional applications. 

That state reported more layoffs in the textile, apparel and trade industries. 

In the same week, only Texas reported a decrease in claims of 1,000 or more with 2,317 fewer claims centered in the rubber/plastics, transportation equipment, non-electrical machinery, electrical equipment, scientific instruments, trade and service industries.