By BridgeNews The speed with which U.S. job seekers found positions in the first quarter -- up 37% from a year earlier -- strongly indicates the slumping economy will be "back on track by fall," reports Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Challenger said it expects discharged job seekers to find new positions in 3.2 months or less, on average. Despite record job cuts and a virtually zero-growth economy, it took discharged managers and executives just 2.27 months to find new jobs in the first quarter, the international outplacement firm said in its latest Challenger Job Market Index. In the first quarter of last year it took 3.58 months to find new employment, the firm said. The first quarter had the shortest median job search time recorded in the 15-year history of the Challenger Index, the company said. The data provide a barometer of changes in the economy that generally appear six months later. "The unprecedented first-quarter job search times are surprising in light of record job-cut announcements occurring during the same period," Challenger says. Job cuts began escalating last December. Through March 540,519 cuts were recorded by Challenger, more than the annual figure recorded in seven years of the last decade. "Knowing that the new economy has forced companies to become more proactive, the drop in job search times may actually be an indication of what lies ahead," says the firm's Chief Executive John Challenger. "In this case, that could mean a fall turnaround for the languishing economy."