6.6 million File

The number of new people claiming unemployment benefits totaled a staggering 6.648 million last week — doubling the record set a week earlier, the Labor Department said Thursday.

In the prior week, ending March 21, a revised 3.307 million initial claims were filed. But analysts said even that lofty number was low because many states’ employment websites were overwhelmed, making it difficult for applicants to get through. A year earlier, the weekly total was just 211,000.

California had the most new claims filed, with 878,727 — an increase of 692,394. In New York, new claims totaled 366,403 — up 286,404. Pennsylvania’s total was 405,880, an increase of 28,429.

The unemployment rate — which has been at a nearly 50-year low of 3.5% — is expected to shoot up, with some estimates putting it at 15%. Friday’s employment report for March is not expected to reflect the full impact because it’s based on surveys conducted before massive layoffs began.

But forecasters at Oxford Economics project about 20 million people will lose their jobs in the coming weeks. And Goldman Sachs expects the economy to shrink at a record 34% annual rate in the next quarter.

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