In an indication of the worsening economic situation, 19,800 Israelis claimed unemployment benefits from the National Insurance Institute in February, a 59-percent hike compared to February 2008. NII Director-General Esther Dominissini said Monday that the unemployment rate might reach 7.5% by the middle of 2009. In the first two days of March, 3,100 people lost their jobs, Channel 2 reported on Monday evening. Reflecting much of the public's deteriorating outlook on the employment situation, the employment index compiled by the ORS human resources company found that the demand for workers dropped by 9.2% in February compared with the previous month, and by 19% compared with the same month last year. The index showed that in February, three job seekers on average fought for each available position. World stock markets tumbled Monday, with the Dow slumping below 7,000 for the first time in over 11 years after insurer American International Group Inc. reported a staggering $61.7 billion quarterly loss and stoked renewed concerns about the health of the US financial system. It was the biggest quarterly loss in US corporate history.