2001 was the year in which the term "lay-off" became bitter reality for many, and an ominous threat for many more.

The unemployment rate increased in Israel from 8.7% to 9.4% and projections agree it is still on the way up. November's 203,000 jobseekers, not adjusted for seasonal effects, is 25,000 more than at the beginning of the year.

It is difficult to assess the number of lay-offs in Israel since the beginning of the year. Published figures provide only a partial picture. The Manufacturers' Association recently reported 6,300 lay-offs from industry in Q3. The organization reports 16,800 lay-offs since Q4 2000.

The most talked about lay-offs this year were undoubtedly in the hi-tech sector, but there are no definitive statistics regarding what happened to that sector's 100,000-strong workforce either. Optimistic estimates have 15,000 technology lay-offs, and more pessimistic commentators suggest 25,000. There is also no accurate tracking of these workers' return to the workforce.

In 2001, hi-tech workers went from being envied, for their high salaries and illustrious perqs, to seeking job security. Many startups closed their doors, some guess as many as 250, while the larger, more stable companies fired hundreds of workers and slashed salaries and benefits for those remaining.

This year's prominent downsizers were ECI Telecom (Nasdaq: ECIL)and Comverse Technology (Nasdaq: CMVT). ECI fired two rounds amounting to 1,400 employees, then tacked on another 140 Enavis and InnoWave employees.

Comverse drove 1,300 fired employees home in limousines to soften the blow. The company froze the Comverse City project, in which the company's 4,000 Israeli employees were to work and many others would have been employed in service industries.

And the list goes on, but not only hi-tech suffered this year. The tourism industry, hit hard by foreign aversion to vacationing in the midst of our political crisis, let go many workers. More companies in more traditional sectors such as Elite and Delta Galil Industries (Nasdaq: DELT) were also forced to say good-bye to many employees, although not at the pace it happened in hi-tech.

And next year? More lay-offs, more wage cuts, and many more unemployed.