Optimism From the Job Cut King


Forgive the poor E.F. Hutton pun, but when John Challenger talks, people generally pay attention. The Chicago-based Challenger, Gray & Christmas firm is viewed as the guru of job market reports and trends — and John Challenger is its leader.

Usually quick to report on employment cuts and leadership exits, Challenger is out with an analysis that says the economic recovery is no longer "jobless." Here’s some of what he offered:

“The pessimism about the job market is evidenced in latest readings on consumer confidence by the Conference Board and the University of Michigan, both of which declined in March. However, while some might perceive that the job market is standing still, it has actually made significant strides since the end of the recession in several areas, including planned layoffs, private-sector payrolls, unemployment and hiring,” noted Challenger.

In the Challenger analysis of government data it found that, much like the previous two recessions, private-sector payrolls continued to contract following the declared end of the recession. From July 2009 through February 2010, private payrolls experienced a net decline of nearly 1.2 million jobs, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ survey of employers. Since February 2010, however, private sector employment has seen net job gains for 13 consecutive months, adding a total of 1.8 million jobs. As of March, there were approximately 108.6 million Americans on private sector payrolls, which is about 93 percent of the pre-recession high of 115.6 million.

Employment is also growing in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ household survey, which is used to establish the unemployment rate.  Similar to private payrolls, overall employment continued to decline during the six-month period following the end of the recession. However, over the past 15 months, there have been 10 months of gains for a net increase of 1.9 million newly employed Americans.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate, which initially continued to rise for four months following the June 2009 end of the recession to a high of 10.1 percent in October 2009, fell to a 24-month low of 8.8 percent in March.  By contrast, unemployment peaked 19 months after the end of the 2001 recession and, following the recession that ended in March 1991, unemployment continued to rise for 15 months.

“There is no reason to think that these positive trends will not continue, even with the threat of higher fuel costs. Based on our tracking of planned job-cut announcements, which tend to be a forward-looking indicator of how employers see future business conditions, there are no signs of sudden reversal of fortune,” said Challenger.

Monthly job-cut announcements are at their lowest levels since the late 1990s.  In fact, the 130,749 job cuts announced between January and March represents the lowest first-quarter total since 1995.

At the same time, planned hiring announced in the first quarter totaled 112,942, which is more than double the 53,675 planned hires announced during the same period a year ago. 

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