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An October survey from Chicago-outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas may dash some of the recent optimism about a labor market recovery, although economists were downplaying the report.

According to Challenger, the number of planned job cuts surged 125% over September as employers announced plans to eliminate 171,874 payrolls last month, the most since October 2002.

"With factors like technology, outsourcing and consolidation working against job creation, any job market rebound we see in the near future will be relatively small," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.

The Challenger survey, however, runs counter to recent trends in the employment sector, including the government's weekly initial jobless claims. The number of workers filing for first-time unemployment benefits has been below 400,000 -- a level indicative of a weak job market -- for the past four weeks.

Last week, the

Federal Reserve

said the labor market "appears to be stabilizing." Meanwhile, a consensus of economists forecasts job growth for a second month in a row in October, although job creation has been unusually slow during the current recovery. On Friday, the Labor Department will release last month's employment statistics along with the unemployment rate, which is expected to remain at 6.1%.

"I have always put more faith in the claims numbers and other figures that give you a good sense of the macroeconomic setting," said Mike Moran, an economist at Daiwa Securities. "My inclination is to downplay the Challenger series. We often see large random shifts and noise in the figures."

Still, in the corporate sector, there have been significant layoff announcements from



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A Challenger poll of human resource executives found that more than three quarters of the respondents did not expect to see any significant upturn in hiring until the second quarter of 2004.

"In this market job seekers are going to have to create opportunities for themselves. It may mean changing industries or looking for positions out of town," Challenger said.