Pedestrians walk past a "Now Hiring" sign in the window of a GNC shop in Boston, Massachusetts September 1, 2010.
Three in ten Americans expect the economy to improve in the coming year, according to The Harris Poll of 3,171 adults surveyed online between Feb. 14 and 21, 2011 by Harris Interactive. REUTERS

Employers in the U.S. announced plans to cut 38,519 jobs in January, according to the Challenger jobs data released on Wednesday.

Though the number of job cuts rose from the previous month, it marks the lowest January total on record, according to the report by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. Compared to a year ago, however, last month’s job cuts were down sharply, falling 46 percent from the 71,482 job cuts recorded in January 2010.

January job cuts were up 20 percent from December, when planned layoffs totaled 32,004, the report showed. The Challenger pointed out that historically, January is the heaviest job-cut month. From 1993 through 2010, employers announced an average of 104,560 job cuts to start the year.

“It is not unusual to see job cuts increase in January. In fact, 2011 marks the fifth consecutive year and the tenth out of the last twelve in which January job cuts surpassed the December total. What made this January figure so unusual is that it was so low, said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Last month’s job cuts were led by employers in the government and nonprofit sector, which announced 6,450 planned reductions in staff. Retailers had the second largest number of job-cut announcements in January, as these employers announced plans to eliminate 5,755 jobs.