September 24, 2020

Off the Charts: Survey Shows Americans Are Losing Jobs at Lower Rates

The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey for February showed that during that month the total number of people who were either discharged or laid off totaled just 0.9 percent of all job holders in the United States. It was the first month since that survey began in 2000 that the figure dipped below 1 percent.

Over the most recent 12 months, the Labor Department figures show, only 15.1 percent of workers lost their jobs because of layoffs or discharges. Until this year, the lowest figure for any 12 months had been 15.3 percent, during the period ending in September 2006. That came as the economic boom was cresting before the recession that began at the end of 2007.

As can be seen in the accompanying charts, the rate peaked in the fall of 2009 with 21 percent of jobs being terminated by firing or layoff in the preceding 12 months.

The rate of labor turnover shown by the report is somewhat stunning in the degree of labor turnover that was common before the Great Recession. There is still substantial turnover, but the rate fell sharply during the downturn and has yet to recover to the preceding levels. The hiring rate has been rising steadily since 2009, but remains below any level seen before the recession.

To some extent, the decline in mobility may help to explain the current prevalence of long-term unemployment. Employers who have no need to replace employees who left are not going to hire anyone, making it all the more difficult for unemployed workers to find work.

The department survey asks employers each month how many workers they have and how many left and were added in the preceding month. It also asks how many unfilled jobs the employers have available.

For employees who left, the employers are asked how many were laid off or discharged, and how many quit. In the accompanying chart, the number quitting is combined with the other reasons for departure, which include retirement, transfer and death.

It is, of course, possible that some departures listed as voluntary are at least partly forced. Some workers taking buyouts or early retirement may have concluded they would lose their jobs anyway if they did not do so.

The estimate that 15.1 percent of jobs were terminated by discharge or layoff in the most recent 12 months does not mean that that proportion of the work force was affected over the period. Layoffs are far more prevalent in some industries, notably construction, where the nature of the work may mean that a worker has a series of jobs, losing each one as the job is completed, and is counted as having been laid off several times in any one year.

The charts also show the rates in some industries. In some, including construction, health care and finance, the current rate of firings and layoffs is above the low before the recession. That is also true in government. But in fields like manufacturing, retail trade and accommodation and food services, fewer workers are now being let go than at any time during the boom years early in this century.

Floyd Norris comments on finance and the economy at

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