When will my job feel safe?

Watch: Stock prices
Current read: Depends where you work

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By Janice Revell, Money Magazine senior writer

The unemployment rate stands at 5.1%, low by historical standards. But unemployment lags in recessions - it costs money to lay people off, so companies generally don't go down that road unless they are relatively sure a slowdown is here to stay.

If we are indeed in a recession, history tells us that we can expect an additional 350,000 workers to lose their jobs every month until it's over. At some point the job losses will stabilize. How can you tell when your job is less at risk?

What to watch: Take a cue from the stock market, advises John Challenger, CEO of outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. The stock price is a forward-looking measure of a company's future earnings prospects. "You can't guarantee the market has it right, but it's a pretty good gauge to be looking at," he says.

Start with the performance of your industry against the market over the past few months. If it's been doing significantly better, that's a good sign that your field has already started to rebound (or never faltered).

Next, if your company is publicly traded, compare its stock price with the industry index. If the stock is up and if it has done better than the industry, the market is signaling that it believes management can grow in the coming months and years. That often translates into more hiring or at least no more layoffs.

For a second opinion: It's also worth your while to keep your antenna up at work. You may know more than outside investors do. Are you being asked to scale back the budget? Are you hearing about products being discontinued? These could be warning signals.

What they're saying now: Of the 10 major sectors in the S&P 500, six have outperformed the broader index over the past year. So if you're not working in the financial services industry or for a business that is heavily reliant on discretionary spending, odds are decent that your job outlook may be fairly optimistic.

To keep track You can retrieve your firm's stock price in the quote box at the top of this page. Once you do, click on the "Advanced Charts" tab for industry and market matchups. To top of page

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