Mass Layoffs, Unemployment Down in Q1

May 18, 2004 ( - Mass layoffs in the first quarter of 2004 were the lowest for a first quarter since 2000.

During the first three months of 2004, 1,204 mass layoff actions were taken by employers in the private nonfarm economy.   This resulted in the separation of 239,361 workers from their jobs for at least 31 days, according to preliminary figures released by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).  

In addition to mass layoff figures, the BLS said the national unemployment rate fell to 6.1% during the first quarter of 2004.   A year earlier unemployment stood at 6.3% .

The first quarter’s mass layoff numbers were lower than the fourth quarter of 2003 where there were 1,690 mass layoff actions resulting in 325,093 worker separations.    Additionally, both the total number of layoff events and the number of separations were sharply lower than in January-March 2003:   1,502 and 286,947, respectively.

Accounting for nearly three out of every 10 mass layoff event (28%) was the completion of seasonal work, interestingly, the highest level for a first quarter since 2000.    Other layoff events were attributed by the BLS to layoffs due to internal company restructuring, 25% of all events and permanent closure of work sites, occurred in 17% of all events.  

Retail trade accounted for 11% of the mass layoff events and 36% of separations during January-March 2004.   The BLS said this marked the first time since the program began in 1995 that a sector other than manufacturing reported the greatest share of separations.  In addition, the 86,884 worker separations in retail trade were the highest for that sector for any quarter since 1995. 

Manufacturing industries accounted for 32% of events and 24% of separations.  Layoff activity in this sector was   concentrated in food manufacturing (11,005), followed by transportation equipment manufacturing (8,874) and computer and electronic product manufacturing(3,912).   Layoffs in construction comprised 19% of events and 10% of separations, mostly among specialty trade contractors. 

By geographic distribution, the West region reported the highest number of separations due to extended mass layoffs (103,337).    The West was followed by the Midwest (68,214), the South (38,832), and the Northeast (28,978).   Additionally, the West region had the only over-the-year increase in the number of employee separations due to a mass layoff, compared to the other three regions, which experienced over-the-year decreases.