The number of planned job job cuts in the United States fell for the second consecutive month in March, falling 19.3 percent from February, according to a report by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

The March figure was the lowest since October 2008, and comes on the heels of a 23 percent decline recorded in February. This marks the first two-month decrease in job cuts since February-March 2007.

Despite this downward trend, job cuts are still well above the pace of a year ago. Last month’s total was 181 percent higher than March 2008, when job cuts hit the lowest level of the year. Overall, first quarter job cuts are 188 percent higher than the total cuts announced in the first three months of 2008.

Employers in the government/nonprofit sector saw the heaviest downsizing in March, with the pharmaceutical industry following in second place.

“The good news is that job cuts appear to be stabilizing in the financial sector,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer. “Unfortunately, other sectors are seeing an increase in cuts as the recession works its way through the economy. State and local governments across the country are struggling with falling tax revenues as more and more people lose their jobs and homes.”

Challenger said state and local governments will benefit from the federal stimulus plan, but other sectors will take longer to recover.

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“We are also seeing increased merger activity as companies attempt to survive the downtown through combining their competitive strengths and cutting costs primarily through job cuts,” he said.