The number of planned layoffs grew 11.6% in June even as job cuts fell to an 11-year low in the first half of 2011, research firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas said Wednesday. Fewer layoffs and higher employment numbers are deemed necessary precursors to a recovery in the housing market, according to economists. Based on the most recent Challenger report, the first part of the year is somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of job returns. Looking at the latest Challenger, Gray & Christmas job cuts report, economists may have something to be slightly optimistic about, with layoff numbers in the second quarter, hitting 115,057, down 12% from 130,749 in the first quarter and 1.2% lower than a year earlier. At the year's half-way point, the firm reported job losses of 245,806, the lowest mid-year number since 2000. Even still, the number of planned job cuts grew 11.6% in June with 41,432. "Announced layoffs in May were up 2% to 37,135, after falling to a four-month low of 36,490 in April," according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas. The next quarter could prove prescient in terms of whether a job recovery is picking up speed or simply bouncing along the bottom with no clear trend ahead. “We saw relatively strong payroll gains in February, March and April, only to see much slower growth in May," said John Challenger, CEO of the outplacement firm. "The next three or four months of employment and hiring data will be important indicators of whether the expansion has prematurely hit the brakes or if the dips in job creation are simply bumps on the road to recovery." The Labor Department reports weekly jobless claims Thursday and nonfarm payroll data for June on Friday. Write to Kerri Panchuk.