For oil workers, falling prices can mean layoffs

The U.S. labor market is getting stronger -- unless you work in the energy sector.

According to a study by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement consultancy, U.S.-based employers announced in January they would shed more than 53,000 positions. Fully 40 percent of those cuts were directly related to the historic fall in global oil prices.

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Last month's layoff announcements were 18 percent higher than in January 2014, and up 63 percent from December.

They also come on the heels of a number of cost-cutting and workforce reduction measures at several major oil industry companies. Oil field service provider Schlumberger (SLB) last month announced 9,000 job cuts. And earlier this week Weatherford International (WFT), which provides technology and other services for the international oil and gas industry, announced that "due to the quickly changing market conditions" it was cutting 5,000 jobs within the company, mostly in the Western Hemisphere.

Along with the oil producers, companies that supply manufactured industrial goods and materials to the producers were also affected.

Employment in oil-related industries account for 780,000 jobs in the U.S., or 0.7 percent of total employment, according to BNP Parisbas.

John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, warned those oil-related job cuts many expand out to industries that aren't directly involved in oil exploration and extraction.

However, as many car-owners already know, those tumbling oil prices have also put more money in consumers' pockets. That's also helping the bottom lines of oil-reliant businesses like trucking and transportation companies, plastics manufacturers and paint-makers.

"Despite the recent surge in job cuts, the net result of falling oil prices could ultimately prove to be positive for the economy, as a whole," Challenger noted.

Still, it remains to be seen if such longer-term gains can offset the more immediate pains.