Survey: U.S. Employers Lay Down Jobs Ax In February

By Agence France-Presse U.S. firms slashed planned job cuts to a five-month low in February, a survey showed March 2, adding to tentative signs of a long-elusive labor market recovery. Employers announced 77,250 job cuts in February, the lowest job-cutting toll since September of last year, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. said. Job cuts were down 34% from January and down 44% from February of last year. The news raised expectations for an improvement in the gloomy labor market after a survey Monday showed manufacturing employment growing after the decimation of 2.8 million jobs in three years. Manufacturing employment expanded for the fourth month in a row in February, according to a closely watched survey conducted for the Institute for Supply Management (ISM), Tempe, Ariz. Challenger, Gray and Christmas warned that companies still appeared to be in "heavy downsizing mode," with the monthly average of planned job cuts in the past six months at 105,943. "From 1998 through 2000 -- the three-year period prior to the 2001 recession - job-cut announcements averaged 54,636 per month, nearly half the current rate," said the company's chief executive, John Challenger. "More worrisome, however, may be the fact that consumer-product companies and industrial-goods manufacturers together have announced 51,606 job cuts so far this year, 156% more than the combined total at this point a year ago." In February, job-cut announcements were highest in the industrial goods industry, with 13,216 employees on the block, the Challenger survey showed. Next was the food industry with 9,609 cuts, health care with 7,007 and the financial industry with 6,375. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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