A job seeker carries a worn briefcase at the Green Jobs and Entrepeneurship Fair in Berkeley, California.
A job seeker carries a worn briefcase at the Green Jobs and Entrepeneurship Fair in Berkeley, California. - 
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JEREMY HOBSON: There's a report out this hour that says the number of planned layoffs dropped last month to the lowest level of the year -- about 36,000 job cuts were announced. That's according to the job placement company Challenger Gray and Christmas and it offers economists an early look at the nation's job picture as we wait for Friday's big monthly employment report from the labor department.

Let's dig into this morning's report and find out what it says about the job market with Challenger's CEO John Challenger. Good morning.

JOHN CHALLENGER: Good morning Jeremy.

HOBSON: Well, first of all -- what does that number -- 36,000 layoff announcements -- tell you about the nation's job situation?

CHALLENGER: It's a positive sign. Companies just are not cutting many people. The reasons now seem to be more benign -- mergers and acquisitions, maybe a company that is just really fairing poorly against its competitors. And then government, and that really right now is a core area of the economy that's experiencing deep job problems.

HOBSON: And do you think that this is a good enough sign to convince you that the economy is not stalling?

CHALLENGER: It's certainly one leg in that picture. We need the job creation. We've seen that now for two consecutive months -- over 200,000. So you know if you're in a job, you're pretty safe. It's been tough if you've been unemployed to get back to work, but the picture does seem to be changing. This Friday's report will be very important to see if that strong job creation is sustained.

HOBSON: And finally I noticed that your report finds the biggest places for layoffs -- at least layoff announcements -- are Cali., D.C., and N.J. for the first part of this year. What does that tell you?

CHALLENGER: Those are harbingers of things to come. Think about all those areas -- Cali. has deep deficits. The government's cutting. Federal government in Washington has seen spending drop almost 8 percent in the latest GDP report. And that portends more cuts. N.J. also is under an austerity campaign. We're going to see this on a continuing basis going forward.

HOBSON: John Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray and Christmas, thanks so much.

CHALLENGER: Thank you.