Last year, 2.6 million jobs disappeared in the U.S. That's the highest since 1945. And things could get worse before they get better.

The Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C. think tank, expects unemployment to peak at about 10.2% in 2010, with more than a third of working Americans unemployed or underemployed that year.

In the current economic climate, almost no one is immune from the threat of a layoff, even mobile-phone employees. (Five thousand workers at Ericsson ( ERIC) will lose their jobs.) Even if you believe your job is safe, you can prepare for the possibility that you'll lose it, so you can move quickly to find a new position. Here a five ways to stay prepared:

Be ready for what's next: Keep your resume updated in case you need to begin a job search quickly. Make sure it adequately summarizes your skills, accomplishments and experience. Look at it with a critical eye and make necessary improvements. Also, think about the skills or education you'll need to take the next step in your career, and consider taking classes or obtaining important certifications, especially if your company provides training or covers educational costs.

Network, and network some more: Develop a list of people you can reach out to should the need arise. Experts recommend including 10 to 25 people in your field, at your level and above, inside and outside your own company. Check in with your contacts regularly to keep your relationships strong. Keep track of personal e-mail addresses and contact information for key people in your professional life, from supervisors and colleagues to vendors and customers, so you'll be able to connect even as people move from job to job. And if you're in a position to help someone who's lost a job or is seeking new opportunities, do it now. He or she may be able to repay the favor down the road.

Get your personal finances in order: Build an emergency fund, enough to cover at least three to six months of expenses. Since we may be facing an extended downturn, a larger rainy-day fund might be in order. Consider opening a high-interest savings account for that purpose. Visit BankingMyWay.com to find out what kind of interest you can earn, and start putting away a little bit every pay period. If necessary, cut back on discretionary spending.

Get what you need and what you can: Back up necessary files from your work computer, so you can access them from home. Compile work samples, performance reviews and whatever personal files you'd want for a job search. Also, find out what's coming to you in the event of layoff. For example, what sort of severance package are you likely to get? Is it negotiable? Do you have a vesting date coming up for your firm's 401(k) contributions or profit-sharing plan, or a bonus? During any exit process, you may be able to make a case that you are due those benefits. Likewise, take advantage of other current benefits. For example, now might be the time to take care of medical or dental issues you've been putting off.

Prepare yourself mentally: Be ready emotionally in case you get the call so you can handle the situation appropriately and professionally. You don't want to burn bridges on the way out, which could hurt your chances to return someday, or affect the references you'll need. Talk to your partner and children, if they're old enough, about what the family will do if either of you lose a job. By taking these steps now, you'll be ready for whatever happens in the months and years ahead.
Mike Woelflein is a business and personal finance freelance writer. A former senior industry specialist with Standard & Poor's and managing editor of ColoradoBiz magazine, he has also written for The Denver Post and American Express.

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