January marked the highest number of layoffs in Israel's history, according to an Employment Service report released yesterday. A total of 19,719 persons lost their jobs last month, and the number of people registered with the service as searching for work reached 276,000.

January witnessed a 3.8 percent increase in the number of those searching for work, compared to the previous month, according to the Employment Service.

Analysis of the report released on Tuesday suggests that after four years of a drop in the numbers of unemployed, the trend has reversed, with the first noticeable reversal in April 2008. Since, there has been a gradual rise in unemployment.

During the past 19 months the cumulative rate of unemployment has stood at 12.9 percent.

Two days ago, the Employment Service released more troubling data, suggesting that the demand for workers has dropped by 12 percent compared to January last year. December 2008 was an even worse month, with a 13.5 percent drop in the demand for workers.

Overall, in January 2009, the Employment Service received requests for approximately 20,000 workers.

The Employment Service emphasizes that if the southern district is excluded from the statistics, the drop in the demand for workers is significantly lower. For example, in the south there was a 27.9 percent drop in the demand for workers last month, compared to the Jerusalem district where the drop was only 10.9 percent.

Nearly half of employers' requests for workers during January 2009 was for unskilled laborers, or 48.45 percent, or 11,276 workers. The number of jobs on offer for professionals stood at 11,996, which was slightly more than 51 percent of the total requests for workers.

"The drop in the demand for workers is a reflection of a continuous slowdown of the Israeli economy," said Yossi Farhi, director of the Employment Service. "On the one hand, this is reflected in the laying off of employees and, on the other, in avoiding absorbing new workers. The report reflects the drop in the demand for workers, and [in the southern district] is certainly the result of the war that slowed trade."

The senior official also warned that "the periphery is still the weak spot of the employment market in Israel."

The cities with the largest demand for workers in January were Jerusalem (2,288); Tel Aviv (2,175); Haifa (1,117); Netanya (722); Petah Tikva (630); Rishon Letzion (604); Ashdod (525); and Be'er Sheva (486).