The total for the month was also 39 percent higher than January 2011 and shows a labor market that is headed in two directions. While larger firms continue to streamline operations or send jobs overseas, smaller companies are hiring.
They are not necessarily hiring at a rate that will lower the unemployment rate, but private firms with fewer than 500 workers added 167,000 jobs in January, while those with more than 500 employees added 3,000.
In one of the latest downturns, AMR, parent of American Airlines, announced it would cut 13,000 jobs, a 20 percent across the board reduction. The announcement, made Wednesday, will count with February's layoff statistics, not January's.
Employment outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas said Thursday that a spike in layoffs at the start of the year is "not unusual."
"Historically, January is the heaviest job-cut month, averaging 101,084 announced layoffs between 1993 and 2011," the firm said.
Still, the spike this year is higher than the spike last year.
The firm said retailers and financial firms suffered the highest layoff toll for the month with 12,426 job cuts and 7,611 job cuts, respectively.
Thwarting a common misconception, the firm said retail layoffs do not include seasonal workers let go after the holidays. Typically, retail layoffs in January involve the loss of permanent jobs due to store closings and cost-cutting strategies.
Texas was hit hardest in the month with 11,606 jobs lost. Illinois was hit with a loss of 7,601 jobs. Third on the list, employers in North Carolina announced 5,980 layoffs in January.