The number of new claims for unemployment benefits last week hit a 26-year high of 573,000, as employers continue to reduce payrolls to cut costs, according to the Labor Department.

New claims were up by 58,000 from the previous week, boosting the total number of out-of-work Americans filing for benefits over 4.4 million, the report said.

The sharpest increases in new claims were reported in Wisconsin and Iowa, followed by Mississippi, Arkansas and North Dakota.

Last week, the Labor Department reported that employers shed 533,000 jobs in November, the biggest monthly employment decline in 34 years.