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Planned job cuts totaled 839,822 jobs in 2006, 232,000 less than in 2005, according to a report released Jan. 4 by the New York-based Challenger, Gray and Christmas, a global outplacement consultancy.

Overall, 2006 job cuts were 22 percent lower than in 2005, and for the first time since the year 2000, annual job cut announcements came in at under seven figures.

December’s announced job cuts, at 54,643, were a drop from November’s 76,773. The December numbers were the third lowest count after May (53,716) and July (37,178). This went against the typical year-end trend of a surge in layoffs.

Unsurprising in light of the industry’s well-publicized troubles, the automotive industry led in cuts in 2006, announcing a record 158,766 layoffs, up 50 percent from 2005. The auto industry’s previous record was set in 2001, at 133,686 announced cuts.

The industrial goods sector took the second-biggest hit in 2006, with 73,381 cuts, up just 400 from 2005. The government, non-profit, computer and retail industries rounded out the top five, but each experienced fewer cuts than the year before.

In brighter news, telecommunications was down 34 percent in job cuts in 2006, transportation was down 75 percent, consumer products were down 31 percent and aerospace/defense was down 47 percent.

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Among non-automotive industries that saw big jumps in job cuts in 2006, the media sector had 88 percent more job cuts than the year prior, the chemical industry rose 53 percent and real estate saw the marked increase of 50 percent, due to the housing market slump.

However, e-commerce, with an eye-popping 781 percent increase, had the biggest surge in job cuts, from 748 in 2005 to 6,591 in 2006.

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