July 6 (Reuters) - The number of planned layoffs at U.S. firms fell in June to its lowest level of the year as employers opted to hold onto existing jobs in a tight labor market where skilled laborers are harder to find, a report released on Thursday showed.
U.S. companies announced 31,105 planned job cuts in June, a 6.0 percent decline from 33,092 in May, according to outplacement consultancy firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
The previous month's figure was downwardly revised from 51,692 after Ford Motor Co reported it would cut 1,400 workers, not 20,000, as initially reported.
Overall, June's job cuts were down 19.3 percent from a year earlier, when 38,536 layoffs were announced in June 2016.
"Some companies are not making their layoffs this year, which they might have done if the labor pool wasn't so stretched, especially for skilled labor," John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, told Reuters.
With the unemployment rate at 4.3 percent, its lowest since May 2001, employers are having a harder time finding the talent they need so they keep existing workers, Challenger said.
The slowdown in layoff activity in June is reflected in the year-to-date totals as well, with the number of planned workforce reductions falling by 28 percent to 227,000 in the first six months of 2017 from more than 313,000 in the first half of 2016.
The technology sector, for instance, reported 23,813 job cuts for the first six months of the year, down 52.5 percent from 50,161 announced in the first half of 2016.
One notable exception is in the retail sector, where announced layoffs in the first half of 2016 are the highest since the recession as big chains such as Macy's Inc close stores and companies restructure to focus on online sales.
The sector had announced 60,127 job cuts through June, a 42 percent increase from the 42,095 cuts reported through the first half of 2016. This represents the highest number of layoffs in the first half since 2009, according to Challenger.
Though the retail sector reported over 5,000 store closings this year, the worst of the layoffs may be behind. Challenger said retailers typically trim their staff in the first quarter after the holiday season before they start to expand again. (Reporting by Kimberly Chin; Editing by Dan Burns)