New SHRM Survey Says Expect Bigger Trouble Ahead for the U.S. Job Market in First Quarter 2009

Feb 4, 2009
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New SHRM Survey Says Expect Bigger Trouble Ahead for the U.S. Job Market in First Quarter 2009

Manufacturing, services, government and other sectors will keep payrolls lean

Alexandria, Va. – Nearly 75 percent of HR professionals across the country expect deep job cuts to continue throughout the first quarter of 2009, with 73 percent pessimistic about overall job growth in the United States, according to the first Labor Market Outlook (LMO) survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

The new SHRM forecast examines hiring and recruiting trends based on a quarterly survey of more than 463 HR professionals managing company staffing issues from a broad range of public and private entities.

“This report debuts at a time when many organizations are asking themselves if they will be in business through tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year,” said SHRM President and CEO Laurence G. O’Neil. “When difficult decisions like layoffs must be implemented, how exiting employees are treated has a direct impact on those left behind, and on the employer’s ability to attract and retain talent later on. More than any other time in recent history, organizations need smart and sophisticated people policies.”

The LMO data shows that the current recession is proving that no job is immune from being eliminated. Of the companies that will cut positions in the first quarter, more than half (56 percent) of the respondents said those jobs will be managerial and professional positions. Another 43 percent said they will layoff hourly service workers, and 12 percent plan to cut senior executives as part of their downsizing.

Additional survey highlights include:

  • Three out of four respondents will either keep their payrolls flat (55 percent) or conduct layoffs (21 percent) in the first quarter.
  • Slightly more than a third (34 percent) of large companies with 500 or more employees will make cuts during the first quarter.
  • More than half (54 percent) of the respondents said they are somewhat pessimistic about job growth and anticipate more job losses, while 19 percent are very pessimistic.
  • Only 11 percent are somewhat optimistic that the first quarter will experience an increase in job growth.
  • Regionally, the Northeast, with its high concentration of financial sector jobs, is the most pessimistic, with 82 percent of HR managers based there expressing pessimism ranging from somewhat to very pessimistic. 
  • HR professionals in the West report the lowest levels of pessimism (66 percent), followed by the Southeast (69 percent), and the Midwest (75 percent).
​Although the outlook is bleak, not everyone is planning to eliminate jobs, and some of the respondents said they are pursuing payroll expansions in early 2009. Twenty-three percent of the HR respondents plan to hire in the first quarter of 2009.

On average large employers (more than 500 employees) who plan to add staff, plan to add 56.2 employees. Medium-size companies with 100 to 499 employees who expect to increase payroll, plan to do so by 17.8 employees on average, and small employers with fewer than 100 workers who plan to hire, expect to do so by an average of 4.2 employees.


About the Society for Human Resource Management
​The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest association devoted to human resource management. Representing more than 250,000 members in over 140 countries, the Society serves the needs of HR professionals and advances the interests of the HR profession. Founded in 1948, SHRM has more than 575 affiliated chapters within the United States and subsidiary offices in China and India. Visit SHRM Online at​.
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