U.S. layoff announcements rose 3% last month to the highest level in 11 months as automation-related restructuring continues to take a toll, a report released on Thursday said.

Job cut announcements reached 84,638 in February - the highest since last March - from 82,307 in January, outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said. It was the highest total for the month of February since 2009, although on a year-to-date basis cuts so far in 2024 are down 7.6% from the same period last year.

The technology sector saw some of the biggest job cuts in February, along with transportation and services. While the tech sector leads all industries in job cuts so far this year, cuts are still down by 55% year to date compared with the same period in 2023. For the finance sector, cuts are up 56% over last year.

Restructuring efforts and plant, unit or store closures were most frequently cited as reasons for layoffs, Challenger said. Technological updates were cited for 15,225 cuts through February.

Andrew Challenger, the firm's senior vice president, said firms may be masking cuts associated with artificial intelligence under other labels.

"In light of the backlash some companies have faced for directly attributing job cuts to artificial intelligence, they appear to be framing this shift as a ‘technological update’ rather than an outright substitution of human roles with AI," said Challenger. "In truth, companies are also implementing robotics and automation in addition to AI. It's worth noting that last year alone, AI was directly cited in 4,247 job reductions, suggesting a growing impact on companies’ workforces."

(Reporting by Amina Niasse; Editing by Andrea Ricci)