NEW YORK (Reuters) - Planned layoffs at U.S. firms in January reached their highest monthly level in seven years, according to a report released on Wednesday, as the more than year-old U.S. recession took an increasingly heavy toll on employment.
The impact of an economic slump that is likely to be the most protracted since the 1930s Great Depression is broadening across a wide range of industries, outplacement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas said in its monthly report on U.S. job cuts.
Job cuts announced in January totaled 241,749, up 45 percent from December's 166,348. Layoffs were up from 74,986 in the year-ago period.
Record downsizing in the retail sector, with 53,968 layoffs planned, was the biggest area for job cuts and contributed to the overall rise in January's total, Challenger said.
"The variety of industries represented among the top five job-cutting sectors in January is further evidence of how far the impact of this recession has spread," said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.
"Industries that at first appeared to be immune to downturns, such as computer and pharmaceutical, are now rapidly shedding workers," he added.
The financial sector, however, had its lowest one-month total since 2005, with 1,458 job cuts announced in January, down from 39,604 in December.
The Challenger data comes ahead of the government's closely watched non-farm payrolls report on Friday, which is expected to show 525,000 jobs were lost in January, according to the median of forecasts in a Reuters poll.
(Reporting by John Parry; Editing by Leslie Adler)