Macy's Announces 7,000 Job Cuts

The closure of Home Depot's high-end EXPO stores, meanwhile, will affect 7,000 employees, or 2 percent of the company's work force. In addition, Home Depot said it would also institute a salary freeze for company officers.

Construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar said it would cut 20,000 jobs -- nearly 20 percent of its work force -- after reporting that its profits had fallen 32 percent. The company said the job cuts were designed to help "deliver our 'trough' profit target" of $40 billion in sales and revenues.

President Obama said last week in his speech on fuel-efficiency standards that layoffs at Caterpillar, Home Depot, Sprint Nextel and elsewhere "are not just numbers on a page."

"As with the millions of jobs lost in 2008, these are working men and women whose families have been disrupted and whose dreams have been put on hold," he said. "We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose."

Unemployment: The Worst Year Since '45

Obama said he looked forward to signing a stimulus plan "that will put millions of Americans to work."

Well-known companies headquartered in the Netherlands have also announced major layoffs: Financial services company ING said it would cut 7,000 jobs while Phillips Electronics plans to cut 6,000. Both companies employ people in the United States.

Microsoft

Microsoft said earlier this month it would slash 5,000 jobs in the next 18 months. It seems that even the once-mighty tech sector isn't immune from the recession.

"While we are not immune to the effects of the economy, I am confident in the strength of our product portfolio and soundness of our approach," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement.

Employers shed 524,000 workers last month, according to the Department of Labor. Unemployment now stands at 7.2 percent, the highest since January 1993.

The losses make 2008 the worst year for layoffs since 1945, when 2.75 million jobs were lost. Granted, the U.S. workforce was smaller then, but it's still significant.

Lost Your Job or Worried About Losing It? Share Your Story With ABC News

The December losses also show an accelerating number of layoffs in recent months, leaving the prospect for workers in 2009 that much more grim.

And many investors on Wall Street look toward President Obama to see how exactly his proposed stimulus plan "will save or create at least 3 million jobs over the next few years," as he says.

How he will do that is unclear. Obama said he plans to invest in energy, education, health care and new infrastructure.

"We will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced, jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain," Obama said a few weeks ago.

Biggest Layoffs of 2008

But, in the meantime, a growing number of Americans are collecting unemployment and desperately searching for new jobs, ones that pay close to what they used to make.

Beyond that, fear of layoffs is taking its own toll on the economy. Some workers who still draw weekly paychecks are cutting back on their spending for fear of losing their jobs down their road. While they might be saving for a rainy day, their lack of spending is driving the country deeper into a recession and putting their own jobs in jeopardy.

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