Job cuts announced by U.S.-based employers last year were 5% fewer than in 2013 and the lowest annual total since 1997, the latest indicator that the U.S. labor market is performing well.
Overall, employers announced job cuts totaling 483,171 in 2014, down from 509,051 cuts announced the prior year, according to a report by global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
“Layoffs aren’t simply at pre-recession levels; they are at pre-2001-recession levels,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of the firm. “This bodes well for job seekers, who will not only find more employment opportunities in 2015, but will enjoy increased job security once they are in those new positions.”
Challenger’s report pointed out that while the economy and employment has grown in 2014, no job is ever truly secure as the nation still averaged about 40,000 planned job cuts per month. That’s because companies restructure their operations, announce cost-cutting moves or cut jobs when mergers and acquisitions are completed.
Notably, the tech sector, a relatively strong performer in the economy, saw the heaviest downsizing last year. That sector announced 59,528 planned layoffs. Challenger said that was a 69% increase from a year ago. Much of that downsizing was due to plans announced by Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) and Microsoft (MSFT) to each cut thousands of jobs. With both of their traditional businesses heavily tied to the PC world, the companies are pivoting to compete as the tech market moves to mobile devices where other rivals are stronger.
Job cuts in the retail sector declined by 11% in 2014 but the industry still ranked second. The third-ranked health care sector also posted fewer layoffs in 2014, Challenger said. Meanwhile, the largest increases in job cuts occurred among employers in the entertainment industry and electronics, where job cuts in 2014 more than doubled for both.
“We expect downsizing to remain subdued in 2015, as a growing number of employers turn their attention toward job creation,” Challenger said.
The biggest potential threat? Falling oil prices, which could result in higher job cuts in one of 2014’s star performers: the energy sector. Energy related layoffs only totaled 14,262 last year. In a nod to that possible soft spot, Challenger pointed to an announcement earlier this week that U.S. Steel (HPQ) would be laying off 756 employees due to soft demand related to weak oil prices.
“Lower prices mean less money for research, exploration and new drilling operations,” Challenger said. “However, the slowdown in oil-related industries may be more than offset by the extra dollars in consumers’ pockets as they shell out less money for gas and heating oil. The money not spent at the pump can be used for consumer goods, travel, home improvement, and dining out. Furthermore, continued low gas prices could spur an increase in SUV sales. All of these are going to have an immediate and positive impact on the job market and hiring.”