The Economy

U.S. Layoffs Jump, But Payrolls Expected to Grow

The unemployment rate remains at historically low levels amid the mixed labor numbers.

U.S. job layoffs jumped to 190,410 in the first quarter of 2019, a 35.6% increase year-over-year, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. It was the worst first quarter since 2009 by that metric. But the Department of Labor’s nonfarm payrolls report, which will be published Friday, is expected to show growth of 175,000 jobs, and the unemployment rate remains near the lowest level in 50 years.

Nonfarm payrolls jumped by 311,000 in January but then fell to 20,000 in February.

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Overall, the 190,000 layoffs were the worst quarter since the third quarter of 2015.

“Companies appear to be streamlining and updating their processes, and workforce reductions are increasingly becoming a part of these decisions,” Andrew Challenger, vice president at Challenger, Gray & Christmas, said in a statement. “Consumer behavior and advances in technology are driving many of these cuts.”

The most layoffs were seen in the automotive industry, where there were 8,838 cuts. The energy sector saw 8,149 layoffs. The financial sector saw 4,884 layoffs, according to the Challenger report, and the retail sector reported 46,061 job cuts this year, a drop of 18.5% over the first quarter of 2018.

“Several indications, such as the number of companies filing for bankruptcy or closing operations, suggest we’re heading for a downturn. The recent proposal to close the [Mexican] border adds to the uncertainty and may contribute to more cuts as companies try to adapt,” Challenger said.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department released its figures for unemployment claims, showing a decline of 10,000 to a seasonally adjusted 202,000 for the week ended March 30. That was the lowest number since 1969.

The four-week moving average of initial jobless claims fell 4,000 to 213,500 last week. That figure is considered a better indicator of the labor market.

The Challenger report said U.S.-based employers planned 60,587 job cuts in March, a 21% decrease.