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US layoffs surged in 2019 amid restructurings, trade problems, report finds

The number of job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers surged in 2019 to the highest level in four years and one of the highest of the decade as businesses grappled with trade issues, restructuring and bankruptcies, an outplacement company said in a report published Jan. 2.

Employers unveiled plans to slash 592,556 jobs during the year, up 10% from 538,695 in 2018, according to data tracked by Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc. That was the largest total since the 598,510 cuts announced in 2015.

"The sectors with the highest number of cuts [last] year were all dealing with trade concerns, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer behavior," said Challenger Gray & Christmas Vice President Andrew Challenger. "We tracked a lot of hiring activity in these industries, as well as cuts."

Retail, industrial goods, technology and automotive led all sectors in terms of downsizing in 2019. Retailers announced 77,475 layoffs, down 21% from the previous year, while those announced by manufacturers of industrial goods jumped 157% year over year, to 70,894.

Job cuts announced in the technology sector surged 351% to 64,166, and layoffs in the automotive sector climbed 66% to 50,776.

The industrial goods and automotive sectors recorded their highest levels of announced job cuts since 2009, Challenger Gray & Christmas said.

The report said restructuring was cited as the top reason for downsizing, with 137,968 job cuts, followed by company or unit closings, which drove 130,728 layoffs.

Bankruptcy accounted for 62,136 job cut announcements, the highest total since 2005. Of these layoffs, 48,753 were in the retail sector.

Employers also announced 11,688 job cuts due to trade difficulties and 5,881 due to tariffs in particular.

On a monthly basis, U.S. employers announced 32,843 job cuts in December 2019, the lowest since July 2018. There were 127,687 layoffs announced in the fourth quarter of 2019, the smallest three-month total since the third quarter of 2018.