NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Job cuts planned by big corporations fell 12 percent last month from February, though businesses are still cautious about hiring, an outplacement firm reported Tuesday.
U.S. businesses announced 68,034 job cuts in March, down from 77,250 job cuts in February, according to Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which keeps track of monthly job-cut announcements.
March's announcements were about 20 percent lower than those of March 2003, when 85,396 cuts were announced.
Employers have announced 262,840 job cuts so far this year, 26 percent fewer than in the first quarter of 2003, when companies said they were cutting 355,795 jobs, the firm said.
The 12-month moving average of cut announcements fell to 95,289 from 96,793 in February. The average had been higher than 100,000 from June 2001 to January 2004.
But John Challenger, the firm's CEO, warned that businesses still seemed cautious about hiring.
"The heavy job cutting we have seen over the past three years appears to be trending down," Challenger said in a press release. "However, the job market seems to be in a state of limbo, where companies are eager to hold on to people they have, but many are reluctant to create any new jobs."
Financial firms led the job cutting in March, announcing 16,120 cuts. Telecom firms announced 9,823 cuts, government and non-profit employers announced 8,725 cuts, and industrial goods firms announced 6,634 cuts.
Among states, Massachusetts saw the most announcements, with 15,043. California followed with 6,054, New Jersey with 5,220, Virginia with 4,200 and Illinois with 4,163.
Challenger's numbers shouldn't be confused with actual tallies of layoffs. They include moves to trim payrolls by not replacing workers who leave voluntarily, offering early retirement or other measures.
On Friday, the Labor Department said non-farm payrolls grew by 308,000 jobs in March, far surpassing Wall Street expectations, though the unemployment rate edged up to 5.7 percent.