Welcome To Layoff Land

Big layoffs make big news. American corporations cut jobs on the order of 60,000 yesterday — one estimate put the global figure at 75,000.

The question now is what those layoffs mean in terms of the overall economy. Yes, those are scary numbers. Yes, economists expect unemployment to rise and keep rising. But the economy creates and sheds jobs all the time. Do this week's mass layoffs wreck the curve?

One place to start understanding what economists call "churn" is with the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey — aptly shortened as JOLT.

The latest JOLT release follows what happened in November, when openings and hires dropped but "separations" changed little. This particular JOLT might feel like a bulletin from another world, but it does offer hints that workers were beginning to hunker down.

You get hard evidence of that in another JOLT number, the so-called quits:

The quits rate can serve as a barometer of workers' ability to change jobs. The quits rate fell in November to a new series low of 1.4 percent; the prior low was 1.5 percent, occurring in several months in 2003. Comparing November 2008 to November 2007, the quits rate was significantly lower for total nonfarm and total private and in many industries, including durable goods manufacturing; nondurable goods manufacturing; retail trade; professional and business services; healthcare and social assistance; arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodation and food services; and state and local government. Regionally, the quits rate fell over the year in all four regions. The quits rate did not rise significantly over the past 12 months in
any industry or region.

We'll try to have more for you on the idea of churn and these big layoffs over the next few days.

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