Report: Job cuts in 2001 reach nearly 2 million

Last year was one of the toughest years for job cuts, with nearly 2 million people laid off, according to outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas Inc.

The telecommunications industry reported the most layoffs, with 317,777 job cuts, nine times more than the total for the previous year, according to the firm's report, which was released today.

The report follows another released yesterday on dot-com layoffs, which showed a similar trend.

Last year, there were 1,956,876 job cuts, which was 1.3 million more than the previous record of 677,795 in 1998, according to the Chicago outplacement firm, which has been tracking job cuts since the mid-1990s.

There is some hope in the numbers, however. Cuts dropped off noticeably at the end of the year, with progressively fewer cuts each month since September. And the report cited 39,000 new job openings last month throughout the country in various industries, including IT, manufacturing and defense.

"The job-cut numbers in 2001 far exceeded anything we ever could have anticipated back in January," said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger Gray & Christmas.

While the terrorist attacks in September increased the layoff numbers, particularly in the travel and transportation industries, most companies were in trouble before Sept. 11, with 1.2 million cuts already announced.

"Companies that had told us they were seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel [before Sept. 11] suddenly found themselves thrust back into darkness," Challenger said.

In 11 out of 12 months last year, job cuts exceeded 100,000. That constant barrage of cuts left job seekers disillusioned and pessimistic, particularly those older than 40, Challenger said. In a December survey, they told the firm that it would take five to six months to find new jobs.

"Just 18 months ago, job fairs would practically have to drag people in off the streets. Now, hiring calls result in lines of unemployed workers wrapped around the block, all vying for a smaller number of jobs, even at modest wages," Challenger said.

For the retail industry, the prospects are still grim. Only online sales increased over last year, and Challenger said the new year will probably bring more layoffs for retailers.

Aside from the telecommunications industry, layoffs were more evenly distributed among other industries: computer industry, 168,395; industrial goods, 153,952; electronics, 153,432; automotive, 133,686; and transportation, 133,017, 72 percent of which came in September.

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