Layoffs increased last month, survey says Figure is in contrast to number of jobs added

April 09, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

Reflecting the upheaval swirling under the surface of the growing U.S. economy, a new survey showed yesterday that major American employers announced 37,486 layoffs in March, an increase of 11 percent from the month before.

The survey came in sharp contrast to a federal government report Friday that the nation's employers added a higher-than- expected 140,000 jobs last month despite a 17-day strike against General Motors Corp.

March's heavy layoff and job-creation figures, analysts said, reflect the two sides of a job market in which major companies continue to restructure and cut staff even as the economy as a whole grows at a solid rate. Observers are divided over whether growing public frustration and political debate over big layoffs has begun to make companies think twice about slashing jobs.

Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich, in a telephone interview, contended that big employers are beginning to get away from rapid-fire job cutting.

"Never underestimate the power of the bully pulpit," Mr. Reich said. "Corporate America, obviously, has been sensitive to this issue and public opinion."

Mr. Reich noted that when SBC Communications said last week that it would buy Pacific Telesis Group in a $16.7 billion deal, the companies emphasized the combination "is not about downsizings or reduced employment opportunities."

John Challenger, executive vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the Chicago-based outplacement company that conducts the monthly layoff survey, agreed that "companies are going to be much more cautious" about announcing layoffs.

Still, Mr. Challenger said the heavy volume of mergers during 1995 and 1996 will lead to cost-cutting that will inevitably translate into more layoffs. His company boosted its projected total of announced layoffs for 1996 from 400,000 to 500,000, which would be up from 439,882 in 1995 but still below the 516,069 in 1994.

The pace of layoffs, Mr. Challenger noted, began to pick up in October and has remained ahead of the previous year's rate ever since. At the same time, out-of-work managers tracked by his company found new jobs in an average of 2.84 months during the first quarter of 1996, he said. That was the fourth consecutive quarterly decline in time spent on job searches.

Mr. Challenger said the improvement, amid a period of high layoffs, reflects a growing willingness by employers to both hire and fire workers based on their current needs, rather than make a long-term commitment to their existing staff.

March's layoff total, up 35 percent from 27,809 the same month last year, brought this year's first-quarter tally to 168,695. That figure was up 74 percent from the first three months of 1995 and was the highest quarterly total since the first quarter of 1994, when 192,572 positions were slashed. The biggest chunk of staff cuts in the first quarter of this year was the 40,000-job reduction announced at AT&T in January.

During March, the biggest job cuts came in the automobile, retail and aerospace-defense industries. The biggest retrenchment was at Ford Motor Co, which reportedly will slash 6,000 engineering jobs. The second-largest reduction was a 2,800-job cut at the federal government's Savannah River Site nuclear facility.

Pub Date: 4/09/96

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