Mass Layoffs Down A Bit in May

June 26, 2003 ( - US employers underwent 1,699 mass layoffs in May 2003 involving 173,784 people, according to new data from the US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labors Statistics (BLS).

Compared with a year ago, both the number of mass layoffs and the number of workers involved declined slightly. On a year to date basis through May, the mass layoffs totaled 8,159, and involved workers was 798,185, lower in both cases than during the same period a year before (8,222 and 910,009, respectively). 

On a month-over-month basis, however, the May figures represented a 7.8% hike in mass layoffs and the number of workers involved.  The BLS reported last month that there were 1,576 mass layoffs involving 161,095 workers (See  April Mass Layoffs Tick Up ). The BLS defines mass layoffs as those involving 50 or more workers from the same company and is measured by new unemployment benefits during the month.

Temporary help services, with 11,087 claims, accounted for over 6% of all initial claims in May. Despite declining mass layoff activity in 2003, five of the 10 industries with the highest number of mass-layoff initial claims recorded their peak May level this year, the BLS said.


The manufacturing sector accounted for 29% of all mass layoffs and 35% of all initial claims filed in May.    A year ago, manufacturing accounted for 28% of mass layoffs and 29% of initial claims.   The total number of initial claims in the sector this May, at 61,174, has only been exceeded in May 2001.   The number of affected workers was highest in transportation equipment (13,288, mainly in automobile manufacturing), followed by food production (7,592) and machinery manufacturing (6,179).  


The administrative and waste services sector accounted for 12% of mass layoffs and 11% of initial claims filed in May, with layoffs mostly in temporary help services.   Construction accounted for 9% of mass layoffs and 8% of initial claims during the month, primarily among specialty trade contractors.   Some 7% of the mass layoffs and initial claims were from retail trade, mostly from general merchandise stores, largely in discount department stores.   Some 6% of all mass layoffs and initial claims filed during May were in accommodations and food services, mostly in food services and drinking places.


Government establishments accounted for 7% of mass layoffs and 6% of initial claims filed during the month; layoffs were largely in educational services.   The 10,158 initial claims in this sector were the most for any May since the series began in 1995.


Compared with May 2002, the largest decreases in initial claims were reported in administrative and support services (-6,651), motion picture and sound recording (-2,347), and general merchandise stores (-2,249).   The largest over the-year increase in initial claims was reported in transportation equipment manufacturing (+6,474).

Among the four regions, the highest number of initial claims in May due to mass layoffs was reported in the West, 51,991.