PhotoDownsizing activity remained relatively flat in September as US-based employers announced plans to cut 33,816 jobs from their payrolls during the month, according to global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

While that was up 4.9 percent from a 20-month low of 32,239 job cuts in August, it was 71 percent lower than a year ago, when planned job cuts unexpectedly hit a 29-month high of 115,730. It was, in fact, the lowest September total since 1997 when only 20,698 were announced.

September brings to an end one of the slowest job-cut quarters in over a decade. Employers announced 102,910 job cuts in the third quarter – down 27 percent from the previous quarter (139,997), and 56 percent lower than the third quarter of 2011 (233,258). It was the lowest quarterly total since the second quarter of 2000, when planned layoffs numbered 81,568.

Trending lower

Employers have now announced 386,001 planned job cuts in 2012, which is 19 percent fewer than the 479,064 job cuts recorded by this point last year. You have to go back to 1997 to find fewer job cuts announced through the first nine months of the year. That year, employers announced 281,496 job cuts through September.

Contributing to the decline in monthly job cut figures is the significant drop-off in the number of layoffs announced by the government sector. These employers announced just 14,186 job cuts through September, compared to 119,027 by this point in 2011.

The biggest job-cutting industry last month was energy, which announced 3,393 job cuts in September. To put that figure in perspective, the top job-cutting sector a year ago (government) announced 54,182 layoffs.

Hiring remains sluggish

“Layoffs are definitely at pre-recession levels. Unfortunately, hiring has not returned to those levels,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “A combination of factors, including the upcoming election, ongoing instability in Europe, growing signs of weakness in Asia and a host of other issues, are keeping companies from making any major expansion or hiring moves.”

In the latest Business Roundtable survey of CEOs from the nation’s largest corporations only 30 percent expected to increase capital spending over the next six months. Forty-eight percent said that in the first quarter. Meanwhile, just 29 percent anticipated adding more workers, versus 42 percent in the first quarter.

While corporate America remains slow to hire, retailers are beginning to bring on extra help for the holidays. Hiring announcements last month, reached 425,683 planned hires, 413,700 of which will be temporary seasonal jobs in the retail and food industries.

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