NEW YORK The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms declined to its lowest level since June, suggesting ongoing improvement in the labor market although unemployment remains historically high, a report on Thursday showed.
Employers announced 41,785 planned job cuts last month, down 1.6 percent from 42,474 in November, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
But December's job cuts were up from the same time a year ago, rising 31 percent from the 32,004 job cuts announced in December 2010. For all of 2011, employers announced 606,082 cuts, up 14 percent from the 529,973 layoffs in 2010.
"Job cuts in 2011 were dominated by the government and financial sectors. These two alone accounted for 41 percent of all the job cuts announced last year", John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.
The 183,064 government job cuts in 2011 represented a record high for that sector since Challenger began tracking it in 2002. And while the financial sector did not come close to its record high, annual cuts for the sector were 63,624, up 165 percent from 2010.
"Unfortunately, these sectors are likely to continue to struggle in 2012. Washington is under immense pressure to cut spending and it looks like every deal to extend tax cuts, raise the debt ceiling and pass the budget will come with measures to cut spending, which can be expected to result in more job cuts," Challenger said.
This report showing a further decline in job cuts comes one day ahead of the U.S. Labor Department's key U.S. jobs report, which is forecast to show a 150,000 increase in non-farm payrolls.
Challenger said planned hirings in December totaled 14,074, down from 63,527 in November but up from 10,575 a year earlier. For all of 2011, announced new jobs totaled 537,572, up from 402,638 in 2010.
(Reporting by Richard Leong; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)