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By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Planned job cuts by U.S. businesses declined in December for the second-straight month, helping 2014 post the fewest announced layoffs in 17 years, career counseling firm Challenger Gray and Christmas said Thursday.

“Layoffs aren’t simply at pre-recession levels, they are at pre-2001-recession levels,” said John A. Challenger, the firm’s chief executive.

“This bodes well for job seekers, who will not only find more employment opportunities in 2015, but will enjoy increased job security once they are in those new positions,” he said.

U.S. firms announced 32,640 layoffs in December, down 9.2 percent from the previous month, Challenger said.

For the year, there were 483,171 planned job cuts, down 5 percent from last year. That was the fewest since 1997, according to Challenger.

The figures are consistent with accelerating job growth.

The U.S. economy added more than 200,000 net new jobs for ten straight months beginning in February, including a robust 321,000 in November.

Economists forecast the December figure, to be released Friday by the Labor Department, will be 245,000.

Initial jobless claim figures Thursday also were in line with a strong labor market.

About 294,000 people filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week, down 4,000 from the previous week, the Labor Department said.

The less-volatile four-week average fell slightly to 290,500, a level consistent with a healthy labor market.

California, the nation’s most populous state, had the most announced job cuts last year with 83,433, Challenger said. That was more than double the amount for New York, which was second.

The large number of layoffs in California was partly due to a surge in job cuts by computer companies.

The industry announced 59,528 layoffs last year, a 69 percent increase from the previous year. Many of those layoffs came from Palo Alto-based Hewlett-Packard Co., as well as Microsoft Corp., Challenger said.

The entertainment industry, which also has a strong California presence, also saw a major increase in planned layoffs last year. The figure more than doubled to 32,235.

The sector ranked fourth nationally. Overall, planned layoffs were down in 16 of 28 industries tracked by Challenger.

Retail companies had the second-most planned layoffs last year at 43,783, but that was down 11 percent from the previous year.

The healthcare industry was third with 38,359, which was a decrease from 52,637 in 2013, Challenger said.

AFP Photo/Scott Olson

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