Human Capital & Careers

Mixed Signals on the Job Front

The Labor Department expects to report a boost of 180,000 employees to payrolls for July. But a Challenger, Gray & Christmas survey finds an unusua...
Stephen TaubAugust 4, 2005

Is the job picture brightening? The answer depends on the data you consult. The Labor Department, for example, reported Thursday that the number of new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week by 1,000, to 312,000. That was the second decline in three weeks, Bloomberg reported, noting that there was strength among automakers, retailers, and manufacturers.

Indeed, the four-week moving average of such claims declined to 316,750 from 319,000, according to the DoL.

Today a different Labor Department report is expected to show that companies boosted their payrolls by 180,000 employees in July. If that occurred, the increase in the employment rolls would be the highest in three months, according to the wire service. ”People are going back to work,” Staples Inc. chief executive Ron Sargent told Bloomberg last week. ”They started going back to work for small businesses, then medium business, and now even Fortune 1,000s seem to be hiring.”

Data culled by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., however, aren’t as upbeat. In a report published earlier this week, the outplacement firm noted that July job-cut announcements surpassed 100,000 for the second straight month. But the firm did point out that the July figure of 102,971 was 7 percent lower than the 110,996 recorded in June.

Even so, the 296,250 job cuts announced from May through July were unusually high for the warm-weather months, according to Challenger. Further, July job cuts were 48 percent higher than they were in the same month a year ago, when employers announced plans to cut their payrolls by 69,572. It was the third straight month and the fifth time this year that the monthly total was higher than its counterpart in 2004.

If job cuts continue at their current pace — they’re now averaging 91,606 per month — the year-end total will surpass the 2004 12-month total (1,039,935) and mark the fifth consecutive year in which more than 1 million job cuts were announced, according to reports.

The largest job-cutting sectors in July were consumer products, computer, and financial. ”If job cuts in the auto industry continue and we start to see consistently high job-cut numbers from the top three job-cutters in July, it should set off some relatively loud alarm bells about the state of the job market and economy,” says John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. ”One would expect employers in the consumer products, financial, and computer sectors to be adding workers by the boatload in an expanding economy.”