Employment outplacement specialists Challenger, Gray and Christmas will give the unemployed two days of free job search advice during Christmas week, officials announced Wednesday.

The telephone counseling sessions, which are an annual tradition, are available nationwide and will take place on Dec. 27 and 28 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Job seekers are asked to call (312) 422-5010.

Challenger, Gray officials said they expect the job market will continue "its slow steady improvement in 2012." They noted that the number of job cuts planned by corporations are "up slightly from 2010, but are still below recession levels."

Through the end of November, employers announced 564,297 job cuts. That's up from the 497,969 announced in the first 11 months of 2010. Still, that's far from the 1.24 million job cuts announced by November 2009.

The Challenger job counseling comes at a critical time.

The federal unemployment extension expires Dec. 31. Congressional plans to extend them unexpectedly hit a wall Tuesday when House Republicans suddenly refused to accept an extension compromise that had been hammered out in the Senate.

Without the extension, 3 million long-term unemployed Americans begin losing unemployment benefits Jan.1.

The defeated House bill also contained a provision that would have extended a 2010 payroll tax cut to all American workers for another 60 days. Now Democrats and Republicans are pointing fingers at each other and the count-down clock keeps ticking. Meanwhile the jobless worry.

Challenger officials said that they will suspend normal business operations for two full days in order to help those desperately hunting for jobs. The company's entire staff of outplacement specialists will be on hand to provide job search training and transition ideas.


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