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Layoffs rise to the highest for any February since 2009, Challenger says

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More than 75 employers were taking resumes and talking to prospective new hires at a career fair in Lake Forest, CA on Wednesday, February 21, 2024. 
Paul Bersebach | Medianews Group | Orange County Register | Getty Images

Layoff announcements in February hit their highest level for the month since the global financial crisis, according to outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

The total of 84,638 planned cuts showed an increase of 3% from January and 9% from the same month a year ago, with technology and finance companies at the forefront.

From a historical perspective, this was the worst February since 2009, which saw 186,350 announcements as the worst of the financial crisis was seemingly coming to an end. Financial markets bottomed the following month, paving the way for the longest economic expansion on record, lasting until the Covid pandemic in March 2020.

For the year, companies have listed 166,945 cuts, a decrease of 7.6% from a year ago.

“As we navigate the start of 2024, we’re witnessing a persistent wave of layoffs,” said Andrew Challenger, the firm’s labor and workplace expert. “Businesses are aggressively slashing costs and embracing technological innovations, actions that are significantly reshaping staffing needs.”

With a series of high-profile layoff waves, tech leads the way this year in cuts with 28,218, though that number has fallen 55% from the same period a year ago. Layoff announcements at financial firms have risen 56% compared to the first two months of 2023.

Other industries planning significant cuts include industrial goods manufacturing (up 1,754% from a year ago), energy (up 1,059%) and education (up 944%).

The layoff numbers, however, are not feeding through to weekly jobless claims, suggesting that unemployment is short-lived and workers are able to find new positions. Initial filings for unemployment insurance totaled 217,000 in the most recent week, unchanged from the previous period and exactly in line with Wall Street estimates.

Challenger’s experts say companies most often cite restructuring plans as the main reason for the reductions in workforce. Artificial intelligence has been cited for just 383 cuts, though “technological updates” in general have been at the root of more than 15,000 reductions, or nearly as much as all the years combined since 2007.

“In truth, companies are also implementing robotics and automation in addition to AI. It’s worth noting that last year alone, AI was directly cited in 4,247 job reductions, suggesting a growing impact on companies’ workforces,” Challenger reported.

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