US layoffs ease in Feb, totaling 61,599: Challenger

Job cuts
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Layoffs by U.S.-based companies eased in February after surging to a six-month high at the start of the year, global outsourcing firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas reported Thursday.

The companies announced 61,599 job cuts last month, down 18 percent from January's 75,114.

Despite the month-to-month fall, downsizing in February was 22 percent higher than in February 2015. In the January-February period, announced layoffs were 32 percent higher than during the first two months of 2015.

Pink slips in the energy sector accounted for 40 percent of February's downsizing. Employers in the sector announced 25,051 cuts.

Oil prices have risen since the middle of February, but were down 43 percent from a year ago.

"Low oil prices continue to take a toll on workers in the energy and industrial goods sectors. Since January of 2015, these two sectors alone have seen workforce reductions in excess of 200,000, the majority of which were attributed to oil prices," Challenger CEO John A. Challenger said in a statement.

Thus far, the pain in the oil and gas patch has not spread into the wider economy in areas that benefited from America's energy boom prior to the downturn, Challenger reported. The firm noted Houston's unemployment rate ticked up slightly from 4 percent to 4.6 percent in December, while it has fallen slightly in Bismarck, North Dakota.

The technology sector also saw an uptick in layoffs, with about 16,000 cuts announced in the first two months of the year, up 143 percent from last year.

The Challenger report comes a day before the Labor Department releases its February jobs data. On Wednesday, ADP and Moody's Analytics said U.S. companies hired 214,000 employees in February.