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Recent Layoff Rate Was Highest Since Early 1980's

Jobs Cut at Second-Fastest Rate on Record


By LOUIS UCHITELLE, The New York Times


Layoffs occurred at the second-fastest rate on record during the first three years of the Bush administration, a government report has found.


In the government's latest survey of how frequently workers are permanently dismissed from their jobs, the layoff rate reached 8.7 percent of all adult jobholders, or 11.4 million men and women age 20 or older. That is nearly equal to the 9 percent rate for the 1981-1983 period, which included the steepest contraction in the American economy since the Great Depression.


Recession and weak economic growth characterized most of the period from 2001 to 2003, and millions of jobs disappeared. But while layoffs normally rise in hard times and fall in prosperous years, the new survey published Friday by the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics added to the statistical evidence that layoffs are more frequent now, in both good times and bad, than they were in similar cycles a decade ago.


The anecdotal evidence is abundant on this point, but the statistical evidence is only beginning to tell the same story. "It appears there is more displacement now; this latest number is quite high," said Henry S. Farber, a Princeton University labor economist who has challenged the anecdotal evidence, wondering whether it overstated the case.


The layoff rate over the last three years, for example, was greater than in the 1990-1991 recession, the displacement survey found. The rate was also higher in the late 1990's boom years than in the late 1980's, a parallel period of strong economic growth.


"No one should be surprised by the increasing frequency of layoffs," said James Glassman, senior United States economist for J. P. Morgan Chase. "It is the echo of globalization. Companies are shifting production around more frequently to take advantage of low-cost centers."


A Bush administration spokeswoman, Claire Buchan, asked for comment, responded with a statement that focused on the surge in job creation in recent months and made no mention of the worker displacement report. A Kerry campaign economist, Jason Furman, said the survey showed that jobs in America were increasingly insecure.

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