2019 was one of the decade’s worst years for job cuts in the US

A worker cleans a stage to prepare for a celebration for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo once the results of the U.S. gubernatorial race are official in New York, November 4, 2014.

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A worker cleans a stage to prepare for a celebration for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo once the results of the U.S. gubernatorial race are official in New York, November 4, 2014.
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REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
  • Job cuts were the highest in four years in 2019 even as the economy maintained a historically low unemployment rate.
  • Employers announced plans to eliminate 592,556 jobs last year, a 10% rise from 2018 levels.
  • Companies said bankruptcy or restructuring were most often behind the changes, according to the report.
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US employers announced the highest number of job cuts in four years in 2019 even as the economy maintained a historically low unemployment rate, according to a new report.

The outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. said Thursday that employers announced plans to eliminate 592,556 jobs last year, a 10% rise from 2018 levels. That was the largest annual total since 598,510 were announced in 2015. Over the past decade, job cut announcements were only higher in 2009 and 2011.

The sectors with the highest number of cuts this year faced trade concerns, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer behavior, said Andrew Challenger, the vice president of the Chicago-based firm. Companies said bankruptcy or restructuring were most often behind the changes, according to the report.

A tit-for-tat trade dispute between the US and China has cast uncertainty on businesses since early 2018, threatening to raise costs and disrupting global supply chains. “Trade difficulties” were cited as the reason for 11,688 job cuts, according to the report, while tariffs accounted for 5,881.

But the broader labor market has held up better than was expected against a backdrop of slower growth abroad and widespread trade tensions, adding nonfarm payrolls for a record 110th month in December. For much of the year, the unemployment rate held near a half-century low.

“We tracked a lot of hiring activity in these industries as well as cuts,” Challenger said.

Business confidence has rebounded some since the Trump administration announced in the fourth quarter an interim agreement to defuse its trade dispute with the second-largest economy. In December, employers announced the fewest job cuts in nearly a year and a half.

“With some resolutions occurring in the trade war and strong consumer spending in the fourth quarter, companies appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach as we head into 2020,” Challenger said.

Job cuts rose sharply in the manufacturing sector last year. Industrial goods factories announced 70,894 cuts, 156% higher than in 2018 and the highest for the sector since 2009.

Retailers announced 77,475 job cuts last year, with a majority of those due to bankruptcies. The sector announced 886,515 hiring plans, 789,781 of which were seasonal.

Here’s a look at job cut announcements over the last decade:

2009: 1,288,030 2011: 606,082 2015: 598,510 2019: 592,556 2018: 538,659 2010: 529,973 2016: 526,915 2012: 523,362 2013: 509,051 2014: 483,171 2017: 418,770