U.S. Layoffs Ease, Energy Jobs Hardest Hit

By Roy Maurer Mar 9, 2016

U.S. employers announced 18 percent fewer layoffs in February 2016 after January’s six-month high, according to the monthly job cuts report by global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas. 

The Chicago-based firm reported that employers downsized 61,599 jobs during the month, down from 75,114 in January.

The February 2016 total was up 22 percent from a year ago, however, and layoffs have totaled 136,713 through the first two months of 2016, up 32 percent from the same period in 2015, when employers announced layoffs totaling 103,620 in January and February.

The energy sector continues to feel the brunt of low oil prices. Energy firms announced another 25,051 job cuts in February 2016, bringing the year-to-date total to 45,154, a 24 percent increase from 2015.

“Since January of 2015, [the energy and industrial goods sectors] alone have seen workforce reductions in excess of 200,000, the majority of which were attributed to oil prices,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Shockingly, we have not seen a precipitous rise in unemployment in the many cities that were benefitting from the recent oil boom, suggesting that the job losses are contained to the energy sector, for the moment.”

Unemployment rates have increased in energy-centric metropolitan areas, but most are still below the national average of 4.9 percent, Challenger said. For example, Houston’s jobless rate increased from 4.0 percent in December 2014 to 4.6 percent in December 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate for Midland, Texas is 3.3 percent and Bismarck, N.D., is still enjoying an unemployment rate of 2.7 percent.

The technology sector is also experiencing a wave of job cuts. Tech companies have announced 16,006 layoffs so far in 2016, a 143 percent increase from the 6,582 job cuts recorded in the first two months of 2015.

“There will always be heavy churn in the tech sector,” Challenger said. “It is an area that embodies change, trial and error, and constant reinvention. Even among the more established firms in the industry, we see workforce volatility, as they branch into new products or services, some of which may or may not succeed.”

Year-to-date, the retail (23,342), industrial goods (7,069) and chemical (6,790) industries round out the top five for planned layoffs. Texas leads in layoffs year-to-date (52,205), followed by Arkansas (16,100), California (10,100), Ohio (6,672) and Iowa (6,560).

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him @SHRMRoy

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