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Record 6.6 million Americans seek unemployment benefit as layoffs accelerate

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In this March 13, 2020 file photo, unionised hospitality workers wait in line in a basement garage to apply for unemployment benefits in Los Angeles
In this March 13, 2020 file photo, unionised hospitality workers wait in line in a basement garage to apply for unemployment benefits in Los Angeles   -   Copyright  Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
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A record 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week, doubling a record set one week earlier in a sign that employers ax staff as the coronavirus pandemic bites.

The report from the Labor Department showed that job cuts surpass last week's record high of nearly 3.3 million.

The surging layoffs have led many economists to envision as many as 20 million lost jobs by the end of April.

The unemployment rate could spike to as high as 15% this month, above the previous record of 10.8% set during a deep recession in 1982.

The US has one of the biggest global COVID-19 infection rates, with more than 188,000 people infected.

Like many countries under lockdown, US officials in states across the country have closed shops, restaurants and hotels -- resulting in millions of people losing their jobs.

US Congress significantly expanded the unemployment benefits system in last week's $2.2 trillion (over 2.2 trillion euros) economic rescue package.

That legislation added $600 (552 euros) a week in jobless aid, on top of what recipients receive from their states, which will enable many lower-income workers to manage their expenses and even increase their purchasing power and support the economy.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, told AP this week that just 6% of companies surveyed by Moody's say they’re hiring -- which is down dramatically from 40% in the weeks preceding the coronavirus outbreak.

Similarly, Spain axed close to 900,000 jobs due to the pandemic, social security data showed on Thursday.