The economy lost 76,835 jobs in February, which was 117% higher than in the same month in 2017. It is another sign that the U.S. expansion, so robust for most of the years since the Great Recession, has started to slow or even stall.
According to global placement company Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which keeps tabs on the national job count every month, the job loss in February was also 45% higher than in January, when the figure was 52,988. Challenger Gray said the February job cuts were the highest for any month since July 2015, when cuts totaled 105,696. The numbers are based on announced layoffs.
The largest cuts so far this year, through two months, are from the retail sector (41,201 jobs), not surprisingly, and industrial goods (31,948), which is primarily heavy industry and manufacturing. There also have been substantial layoffs in the automotive (7,049), health care (7,766) and transportation industries (7,193). The breadth across sectors shows the extent to which no single part of the economy has been the sole cause of the drop.
Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger Gray, commented, “Job cuts have been trending upward since the last half of 2018. We continue to see companies respond to shifting consumer behavior, new technology, as well as trade and market uncertainty through workforce restructuring.” His comments leave open the issue of whether the collapse of the retail sector and trade tensions between the United States and its largest trade partners will drive more layoffs throughout the year. Several retailers have shuttered stores since the start of March, with the biggest being the Family Dollar decision to close next to 400 stores. Payless ShoeSource was among the companies that contributed to the high February number. It closed 2,500 stores.
For 2018, the total number of job cuts tracked by Challenger Gray was 538,659. Based on the current pace, 2019 could handily top that.