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U.S. LABOR MARKET IS HEALTHIER THAN MANY THINK, SURVEY SHOWS

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More major U.S. companies cut jobs in the past year but the total work force increased, a leading business group reported Sunday in a survey that suggests the labor market is healthier than many people think.

"Job eliminations and downsizing are no longer synonymous," said Eric Greenberg, survey director of the American Management Association.Companies eliminating positions did so at the slowest average pace in the nine-year history of the survey, and 60 percent balanced the cuts by creating new jobs. Overall, the survey of 1,003 large and midsize businesses revealed a 4.5 percent rise in the total work force.

The study, which covered the 12 months ending June 30, said more companies shuffled their work forces because they were reorganizing operations, rather than directly reacting to a drop in business.

Fifty percent of the companies surveyed cut jobs, up from 47.3 percent in the previous year. Those companies slashed an average of 7.7 percent of their work force, down from 9.2 percent a year earlier.

Because many companies added positions while eliminating others, companies that did cut jobs saw only a 1.1 percent decline in their work forces, down from 5.2 percent a year earlier and 8.4 percent two years earlier.

Of all the companies surveyed, only 27.3 saw an overall work force reduction, down from 30.6 percent a year earlier and 32.6 percent in 1992-93.

The study gave an encouraging picture of the U.S. economy, as only a quarter of all the firms said they cut jobs in reaction to a business downturn, while 44 percent created jobs because of a market upswing.

Looking ahead, 38.5 percent projected a work force increase by June 1996, while 22.1 percent foresaw a decrease and 36.7 percent forecast no change.