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Planned layoffs fall in March, but worst quarter since 2011

People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Staple
People wait in line to meet a job recruiter at the UJA-Federation Connect to Care job fair in New York March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Staple

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in March but downsizing by retail companies still helped the first quarter rack up the largest amount of cuts in over a year, a report showed on Thursday.

Employers announced 49,255 planned job cuts last month, down 11 percent from 55,356 in February, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

But March's layoffs were still up 30 percent from the same time a year ago, the fourth time in the last six months that monthly job cuts have been higher than the year before.

For the quarter, there were 145,041 workers let go, up 5.6 percent from the fourth quarter of last year. It was the worst quarter for layoffs since the third quarter of 2011.

Retailers cut the most employees in March, announcing 16,445 layoffs, up from 2,279 in February. In the first three months of the year, retail firms have cut 25,400 jobs, second only to the financial sector's 33,819 for 2013 so far.

The $85 billion in government spending cuts that went into effect last month has so far not had much impact on the economy, with government layoffs at just 1,448 in March, according to the report.

But the aerospace and defense sector, which is expected to be hit by the so-called sequester, laid off 3,921 workers. More than a quarter of the layoffs were a result of a sequester-related lost government contract, the report said.

(Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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