Planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in September, showing further signs that the labor market is improving.

Planned job cuts announced by U.S. employers fell to 66,404 last month, down 13 percent from 76,456 in August, according to a report released on Wednesday by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

September's layoff tally was 30 percent lower than the 95,094 job cuts during the same time last year. This brought the figure for the July-September quarter to 240,233, the lowest since the first quarter of 2008 and marking the fourth consecutive quarter in which job cuts declined from the year prior level.

But while the rate of layoffs has slowed, the cumulative number of job cuts has climbed to 1.14 million for the period from January through September, well above the 763,090 during the same period a year earlier.

The downward trend in planned job-cut announcements is certainly a sign that employers feel more optimistic about future business conditions, said Rick Cobb, the firm's executive vice president, in a statement.

It could be a while before this increased confidence results in job creation, but we are going in the right direction, he said.

The ever struggling automotive sector led the job-cut tally with 22,114 in September, the largest monthly layoff count for the sector since April.

But while the automotive companies led the monthly job-cut count, they are not the leading industry to lose workers in the year to date.

Even though the federal government and municipalities have been one of the few employers creating jobs, they have also cut 155,602 jobs since January, including 7,563 for September.

State and local governments are seeing their costs increase as more unemployed citizens rely on government sponsored safety-net programs, Cobb said.

But at the same time, their income streams from income taxes, property taxes and corporate taxes are shrinking, he said.

Away from the heavy job cuts in the automotive sector and the federal government and municipalities, other sectors are improving.

Layoffs in the industrial goods sectors have slowed, with a third-quarter job-loss total of 13,664 compared to 60,332 in the first quarter.

Retailers cut fewer jobs, too, since the first quarter, with 9,724 layoffs between July and September that was 87 percent fewer than the 76,548 cut announced in the first three months of the year.