The number of planned layoffs in the United States rose for the second month in a row in May, with the retail sector registering the highest number of job cuts, according to a report on Tuesday.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. (search) said planned job cuts rose by 1.6 percent to 73,368 in May compared with 72,184 in April.

But the report showed monthly job cuts in May this year were 6.9 percent above those in May 2003, making this the first month since December that has seen a year-on-year increase.

Layoffs hit a nine-month low of 68,034 in March.

Whiled expect in a strong recovery situation," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"Furthermore, while job cuts have remained below 100,000 for four consecutive months, we still have not returned to pre-recession levels, when job cuts averaged about 51,000 per month," he added.

The Challenger report also included the number of planned hirings for the first time in May.

Employers announced plans to hire 55,307 workers, with the largest additions expected in the service sector and among government employers.

"... retailers, which usually lead the recovery in hiring, announced plans to add just 150 jobs," the report added.

The rise in planned layoffs last month is unlikely to change many investors' views on the upcoming May employment report (search), scheduled for Friday.

A Reuters poll shows analysts expect to see a rise of 216,000 in workers on non-farm payrolls in May, down from April's rise of 288,000, with forecasts ranging between 140,000 and 300,000.