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From January to March 2024, there were 4.9 million layoffs across all industries, which is lower than per-quarter average of 5.8 million from 2001– 2023.

Most of the 2024 layoffs — 1.2 million — were in the professional and business services sector, or concerned jobs in business operations like accounting, legal, architectural, engineering, and consulting services.

People with construction jobs faced the highest layoff risk, with a median of 2.3% of the workforce laid off monthly.

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How common are layoffs?

Since 2001, there have been an average of 5.8 million layoffs per quarter, with peaks in 2009 (during the Great Recession)and 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic.) Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared over on May 11, 2023, there have been an average of 4.9 million layoffs per quarter – fewer than any pre-pandemic quarter since at least 2001.

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Which industries have had the most layoffs?

In line with the January–March 2024 estimates, the professional and business services sector has historically had the highest average number of layoffs per year, with nearly 5 million per year since 2005. During the same period, this was also the third largest sector of the American economy, employing an average of 19.3 million people. Layoffs in this industry peaked in 2008 (5.35 million), 2012 (5.25 million), and 2020 (6.5 million).

The trade, transportation, and utilities sector employs the most people of any sector — 26.6 million jobs a year, on average — and has experienced the second-highest average number of layoffs since 2005, eliminating 4.2 million jobs a year.

The third-highest number of layoffs is in leisure and hospitality. This sector includes jobs in arts, entertainment, recreation, lodging, and restaurants. Since 2005, this industry has been the fourth largest sector of the economy, employing 14.4 million people per year, and averaged just over 3.7 million layoffs per year.

Leading up to 2020, there were 3.1 million–3.8 million annual layoffs, but that number spiked to 10.5 million in 2020 during COVID-related closures. Layoffs have since dropped below pre-2020 levels.

Two other sectors have laid off an average of more than 2 million people per year since 2005: construction, and education and health services. This mirrors broader economic recessions: for the construction sector, layoffs spiked to 3.9 million in 2009 and again in 2020 to 3.2 million. Education and health services also peaked in 2009 and again in 2020, with 4.5 million layoffs in 2020 nearly doubling the 2009 high of 2.3 million.

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Between 2005 and 2023, mining and logging had the lowest average number of layoffs per year (130K) followed by the Federal government (183K).

When are layoffs most likely to occur?

Since 2001, most layoffs happen in January and December and appear least likely to happen in February and March. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April of 2020 — with 1.1 million and 752,000 layoffs, respectively was so profound as to skew the data, eclipsing the previous monthly high of 272,000 set in January of 2009.

Excluding the 2020 data reveals that January and December still are the most likely months for layoffs, and February and March the least likely.

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Some states are required to report layoffs ahead of time, via systems like California’s “WARN” program: Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification. This act requires companies to give a 60-day notice of mass layoffs to allow impacted employees to seek new employment and pursue training to make them job-market ready.

For more on economy data, check out our article on what a recession is and get the facts every week by signing up for our newsletter.

Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey
Last updated
2024