U.S. Labor Market Improving But Still Volatile, Reports Suggest

unemployment improvingData in recent months has pointed to continual improvement in the nation's battered labor market. But job cuts continue and there's still a long way to go before millions of Americans again find employment or the kind of jobs they want, two reports released Thursday show.

The first of those shows that the nation's employers planned to cut 53,486 jobs in January, the largest number since last September, when companies sought to eliminate nearly 116,000 positions, according to data compiled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based employment-services firm.

Last month's total was 28 percent higher than the 41,785 job cuts announced in December and 39 percent more than during the same month a year ago, when employers said they planned to cut 38,519 positions, according to Challenger.

Though the rise in cuts may appear alarming, it's not unusual for the number of layoffs to surge in January, Challenger said. January is typically the highest month for job-cut announcements, averaging slightly more than 100,000 from 1993 to 2011.

Retailers topped the list for reductions in force, cutting 12,426 jobs. The financial sector followed, with plans to trim 7,611 jobs -- the largest number since September, when more than 31,000 cuts were announced. Most of those cuts, Challenger noted, were attributable to Bank of America.

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Government job cuts continued their downward trend, recording just 3,021 layoffs, up slightly from December's 2,183, but well below the 15,255 cuts averaged during each month last year.

Challenger CEO John Challenger said in a statement that it was too early to determine whether job cuts in the public sector will stay low.

Still, he said, "It is highly unlikely, considering that many cities and states continue to struggle with budget deficits. And, then there is the federal level of government, which remains under intense pressure to cut costs."

A second report from Gallup says that the nation's unemployment rate climbed slightly to 8.6 percent last month from the 8.5 percent rate recorded in December.

The polling organization's data also showed a sharp increase in the number of U.S. workers who work part-time but want full-time positions, also known as those who are "underemployed." The rate climbed to 10.1 percent last month, up from 9.8 percent in December and 9.1 percent during the same month a year ago.

The percentage of underemployed Americans jumped to 18.7 percent in January, up from 18.3 in December but still below January 2011's 19 percent rate, Gallup said. The group based its analysis on surveys taken through Jan. 15.

The Labor Department is scheduled to release its monthly employment report Friday morning. Analyst forecasts compiled by Bloomberg expect the report to show that the nation's employers added 135,000 jobs in January -- about a third fewer than December's 200,000 -- and for the U.S. unemployment rate to remain at 8.5 percent.

Next:Fewer U.S. Workers Seek Unemployment Aid As Job Market Improves

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