BLS: Mass Layoffs Higher in January

February 25, 2004 ( - January proved to be a difficult month for the nation's unemployed with the number of mass layoffs and the amount of involved workers skyrocketing over the month before.

Employers carried out 2,428 January mass layoffs, up from the 1,929 mass layoffs in December (See   December Mass Layoffs Shoot Up ) , covering 239,454 workers.   January’s numbers were the highest ever for the month, and the latest number marks only the third time in the last two years that initial claims have increased over the year, according to data supplied by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The government defines a mass layoff as one involving at least 50 people from a single employer and measures the data from initial unemployment benefit filings.   Among the four geographic regions, the Midwest had the largest amount of initial claims in January (68,404).

The manufacturing sector recorded 35% of all mass layoffs and 37% of all initial claims filed in January.  A year ago, manufacturing reported 36% of events and 40% of initial claims.  Within manufacturing, the number of claimants was highest in transportation equipment (15,107) and food processing (11,083). 

The administrative and waste services sector accounted for 12% of both events and initial claims filed in January, primarily concentrated in temporary help services, whereas construction accounted for 13% of events and 10% of initial claims during the month, weighted down by layoffs in heavy and civil engineering construction and among specialty trade contractors. Eight percent of all layoff events and 9% of initial claims filed during the month were in retail trade, mainly in general merchandise stores, especially in discount department stores, which recorded a series peak for January.

Government establishments accounted for 4% of events and 5% of initial claims filed during the month, particularly in the administration of economic programs and in educational services. The number of initial claims in government was the highest for a January since 1998.

Compared with January 2003, the largest increases in initial claims were reported in:

  • motion picture and sound recording (+3,838)
  • transit and ground passenger transportation (+3,096)
  • transportation equipment (+2,927)
  • food manufacturing (+2,830)
  • heavy and civil engineering construction (+2,711).

The largest over-the-year decreases in initial claims were reported in computer and electronic products (-3,816) and in air transportation (-3,695).