Planned job cuts at U.S. companies climbed during November, a report said on Tuesday, a further sign of sluggishness in the labor market.

Employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas (search) said U.S. companies announced 104,530 layoffs in November, up from 101,840 in October.

This is the first time since early 2002 that announced job cuts have exceeded 100,000 for three or more consecutive months. The report said such a job shortfall could prompt consumers to curtail holiday spending.

"The biggest worry for the economy is that the large number of lower-middle class and middle-class Americans struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck will be short of discretionary income during the holiday shopping season," said John Challenger, chief executive officer of the firm, in a statement.

The telecommunications industry has suffered the most job cuts, with the loss of 48,804 positions -- 50 percent of the sector's total job cuts for the year -- occurring in the past three months.

The automotive industry (search) has also suffered deep cuts. The surge of layoffs since September has eliminated a total of 23,936 positions in the sector.

That might explain why, on Friday, the Labor Department (search) reported the very moderate addition of only 112,000 jobs to U.S. payrolls, well below expectations.

"Not only are more companies announcing job cuts, there are more jobs being eliminated in each announcement. This volatility could continue in 2005," said Challenger.