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Planned job cuts in February at lowest level since 2006

March 3, 2010 |  9:36 am


Planned downsizing at U.S. companies plunged in February to its lowest level since 2006, according to a report Wednesday.

Employers announced 42,090 job cuts last month, a 41% dip from the 71,482 in January and a 77% slide from the 186,350 in February 2009.

The previous low was the 37,178 layoffs announced in July 2006, according to Chicago-based outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Since monthly job cuts hit 241,749 January 2009, the highest total in seven years, the slashing has followed a mostly downward trend.

“It may be a couple of more months before hiring begins to surge, but it is clear that employers have shifted away from downsizing and are poised to start adding workers,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive of the consulting firm.

Employers pointed to merger and acquisition activity as the top reason to trim staff, followed by cost-cutting efforts and a downturn in demand.

So far this year, California is leading the country in the number of job cuts, with 19,307 between January and February. New Jersey and New York businesses are also busy axing employees.

The pharmaceutical sector has the highest number of layoffs in 2010, with 25,857.

But many industries are showing massive improvement over 2009. Retailers reduced payrolls by 18,271 in the first two months of 2010, a 75% drop from the 72,727 cuts announced over the same period in 2009. Automotive companies saw a 90% freefall to just 7,334 layoffs from 70,058.

The Challenger report is based on job cuts that are publicly announced by businesses based in the U.S., whether through news reports, Securities and Exchange Commission filings, annual reports, press releases or state Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification reports. The layoffs tallied per month may not actually take place until later months.

On Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics will release its estimate of nonfarm payrolls for February. The official government jobs data are expected to be heavily affected by last month’s storms.

-- Tiffany Hsu

Photo: A lab technician prepares to test medication. Pharmaceutical employees took the brunt of planned job cuts in February. Credit: Geraldine Wilkins/Los Angeles Times.