Planned US job cuts up in March vs Feb -Challenger

NEW YORK, April 1 (Reuters) - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms rose in March, although planned job cuts for the first quarter were down sharply from a year ago, a report on Thursday showed.

Employers announced 67,611 planned job cuts last month, up from 42,090 the previous month, according to the report from global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The first-quarter total of 181,183 layoffs, however, is 69 percent lower than the 578,510 announced in the first quarter of 2009.

“The first quarter of 2009 really marked the peak of downsizing for this recession. Unfortunately, many people are still jobless and many businesses are still shuttered,” John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement.

The U.S. jobless rate is currently at 9.7 percent, and that level is expected to stay the same in Friday’s U.S. government jobs report for March. The data is forecast to show an increase in nonfarm payrolls, while a report on the private sector on Wednesday showed job losses continued in March. (Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by James Dalgleish)