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Oil patch layoffs just a drop in the job bucket

A Halliburton worker walks through an Anadarko Petroleum Corporation hydraulic fracturing site north of Dacono, Colo., Aug. 12, 2014.
Jamie Schwaberow | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Halliburton worker walks through an Anadarko Petroleum Corporation hydraulic fracturing site north of Dacono, Colo., Aug. 12, 2014.

Even as the U.S. job market continues to improve, that hasn't stopped a steady pace of layoff announcements from some of the biggest American employers.

Many of those are coming from the oil patch, where the ongoing plunge in crude prices is forcing production cutbacks in fields that are no longer profitable.

Oilfield services provider Baker Hughes said Tuesday it plans to lay off about 7,000 workers—or 11 percent of its workforce—as the number of oil rigs in operation begins to fall. Executives at Halliburton, another oil services company, told investors on a conference call this week that rig counts had fallen by nearly 15 percent in the past month and said it also expected to announce layoffs.

Read More Baker Hughes to lay off 7,000 as oil patch layoffs mount

Schlumberger, another oil services provider, has announced 9,000 job cuts.

Crude oil prices have plunged almost 60 percent since June, hitting five-year lows as increased U.S. production and weak global demand have left the global market awash in oil.

Initial claims for unemployment insurance have bumped up since October, but they're still less than half the level seen at the end of the Great Recession.

For the week ended Jan. 10, the latest data available, there was a rise in first-time jobless claims in oil-producing states like Texas, Louisiana and North Dakota. Those claims also rose in states such as Missouri, Indiana and Illinois, which are not big oil producers.

Oil isn't the only commodity seeing prices weaken. Falling grain prices and lower farm income have hurt companies like Deere. The agricultural equipment maker said Friday it will lay off about 910 workers indefinitely from its factories—mostly in Iowa—and furlough another 500 employees in Illinois until late summer, as the company sees lower demand for its products. Deere employs about 29,000 people in the United States and Canada, or about half its global workforce

Read MoreDeere to lay off more than 1,000 workers

But while lower oil and commodity prices are forcing layoffs among producers and the companies that serve them, the recent spate of job cuts represents a tiny blip in the U.S. labor market. Overall, American employers continue to expand their payrolls faster than they shrink them.

Layoff announcements also tend to make headlines before workers are actually sidelined. And while news of thousands of jobs lost in a single week can be troubling, the overall monthly churn—the total new hires and layoffs—is far greater than the widely watched employment numbers would indicate.

Last month, for example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that the total level of nonfarm payrolls rose by roughly 252,000 in December. That represents the net difference between all of the workers who were freshly hired and those who quit, got laid off, or left for other reasons.

But the total number of new hires hit roughly 5 million in November, the latest data available, according to a separate set of government data called the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. Those 5 million hires for the month were offset by 4.6 million people who left their jobs, including 2.6 million who quit and 1.6 million who were laid off.

That pace of layoffs—about 1.6 million a month—has been relatively flat for the past five years. As long as employers are creating jobs faster than they're eliminating them, the job market is expanding.

That's also seen in the number of unfilled job openings tracked in the JOLTS report, which rose to nearly 5 million in November from 4.1 million a year earlier. That's a sign the overall demand for labor is increasing, which makes it easier for the average worker to find a job.

Read More Deere to lay off more than 1,000 workers in Iowa, Illinois

While mass layoffs tend to make headlines, announcements about new hires tend to get overlooked. Even as Deere broke the news of factory layoffs, for example, it said it's adding 220 jobs at construction and forestry factories in Iowa. The company said it plans to fill nearly all those positions with workers were laid off at agricultural equipment factories last year.