Human Capital & Careers

Unemployment Shoots Up, with a Slim Silver Lining

While the February body count was 651,000, the number of companies announcing large layoffs has slowed to a trickle.
Stephen TaubMarch 6, 2009

The unemployment rate surged to 8.1 percent in February as 651,000 people lost their jobs, the Labor Department announced Friday morning. That figure does not include people who have given up looking for work altogether, a group that has doubled in size over the past month.

The Labor Department also revised its January numbers downward. But the shocking unemployment data belies an underlying trend that is gaining momentum: for four straight weeks, fewer companies have announced layoffs of more than 1,000 workers.

To be sure, there are reports that some companies are quietly firing people without making announcements. And a couple of companies did say they will eliminate a large number of jobs.

HSBC revealed plans to eliminate 6,100 U.S. jobs associated with consumer lending companies it had bought. And General Dynamics said its Gulfstream Aerospace unit will cut production on some of its airplanes, which will cause 1,200 workers, including about 550 contractor personnel, to lose their jobs. “We regret the impact of these actions on our employees and their families, and are doing our best to minimize the number of workers affected,” said Nicholas Chabraja, chairman and chief executive officer of General Dynamics.

Tyco Electronics is also laying off a large number of employees. It did not put out a press release, but the Associated Press reported that spokesman Mike Ratcliff said the company told a “substantial” number of employees Wednesday morning that they are losing their jobs, although he wouldn’t say how many. The layoffs affect employees at many different facilities, including those in central Pennsylvania, the Greensboro/Winston-Salem area in North Carolina, and Menlo Park and Redwood City in California, according to the wire service.

Otherwise, this week’s layoff announcements involved small numbers of people, although in some cases they represented a large percentage of the overall workforce.

The most intriguing announcement came from Seagate Technology, which said it will terminate the employment of five senior vice presidents and 17 vice presidents, representing about 20 percent of the disc-drive maker’s positions at or above the vice president level. These terminations will take effect beginning May 4.

Diageo PLC, a worldwide producer and distributor of alcoholic beverages, plans to cut 150 jobs from its North American operations next month. And U.S. Steel plans to temporarily shut down certain operations and lay off 77 workers.