NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Many colorful words can be applied to the describing the U.S. job market: uncertain, tenuous, stagnant come to mind -- and those are the nicer ones. Granted, the year started off on a high note, with the January unemployment rate surprisingly falling to 9.7%, as employers shed a mere 20,000 jobs in the month. This represented the first drop in the figure in seven months; unemployment was at 10% in December. And then, in a rather surprising turn, came February's unemployment report, which showed the rate holding steady at 9.l7%, despite the hits the economy took as a result of the major snowstorms throughout the month. Experts had expected that the jobless rate would likely rise -- if not for that month, then during the coming months -- as those chronically unemployed workers who had placed themselves on the sidelines come flocking back to the job market at the first sign of hope. Indeed, some economists call for unemployment to climb as high as 11%. Despite a gradual improvement in the economy, most companies are not only loathe to hire new workers; many companies are still putting jobs, by the thousands, on the chopping block. On Monday, more than 1,500 of IBM's ( IBM) 400,000 worldwide employees received a pink slip. The layoffs came from a number of divisions, but no specifics were revealed. And in late February, ABC News, a unit of Walt Disney ( DIS), announced a restructuring plan that will lead to massive job cuts by the end of the year. The company did not specify how many jobs would be lost, but warned that the figure could be as high as 25% of its 1,400 staffers. Also in late February, Sears ( SHLD) announced that it would eliminate some 1,000 jobs as it closes 21 stores, while Continental Airlines ( CAL) said it is letting go of 600 people at its reservations centers and Boeing ( BA) sent out more than 1,000 employment notices.