Layoffs in U.S. up 59% from 2007

Media industry made most cuts since 2001

NEW YORK -- Corporate America last year laid off the highest number of employees since 2003, while the media industry pink-slipped people at the highest rate since 2001.

Employers announced more than 1.22 million job cuts in 2008, up 59% from the previous year, thanks to an accelerating of cost cutting in the back half, according to global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas. In 2003, more than 1.23 million had been fired. The 2008 hike was driven by the financial sector, which shed 260,110 jobs, the third-highest total for a single industry since Challenger started tracking data in 1993.

Layoffs in the media industry, which includes film and TV companies, amounted to 28,083 last year, the highest since 43,420 staffers were let go in 2001 following the bursting of the dot-com bubble.

"Heavy job-cutting could continue through at least the first half of 2009," said Challenger CEO John Challenger.

"The economy could begin to mount a comeback in the second half of the year, if the new administration can achieve quick passage of its proposed economic and job-growth stimulus package."

A possible economic rebound later this year and a lack of over-hiring during the recent expansion "probably" means that the number of layoffs this year won't match those in the most recent recession. In 2001, total layoffs amounted to nearly 2 million, followed by nearly 1.5 million in 2002, according to the Challenger data.

December layoffs amounted to 166,348, a record for the final month of the year when looking at the Challenger data since 1993.