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U.S. planned layoffs fall 20 pct in September: Challenger

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell 20 percent in September, even as cuts in the healthcare sector more than doubled from the prior month, a report on Thursday showed.

Employers announced 40,289 layoffs last month, down from 50,462 in August, according to the report from consultants Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

Still, the September job cuts were up 19 percent from the same month last year. For 2013 so far, employers have announced 387,384 losses, close to the 386,000 seen in the first nine months of last year.

The healthcare sector saw the biggest layoffs, with plans to cut 8,128 employees as health companies faced lower government payments, up from 3,163 in August.

"The healthcare sector is adjusting workforce levels due to cutbacks in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements initiated under the Affordable Care Act as well as overall reductions in federal spending due to sequestration," said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray.

The financial sector saw the next largest number of planned job cuts, with 6,932 in September compared with 3,096 a month earlier.

The Challenger report took on added significance this week after the U.S. federal government shutdown limited other labor market data. The U.S. Labor Department said it will not issue its key monthly U.S. non-farm payrolls report on Friday if the government is still shut down, though weekly jobless claims were scheduled to be released as normal on Thursday.

While the shutdown is an added challenge for the U.S. outlook, it has had no immediate impact on the economy, the Challenger report said, pointing to strength in recently announced retail holiday hiring numbers.

(Reporting by Meredith Mazzilli; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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