Between December 2007 (when the recession officially began) and last month, more than 8 million Americans have lost their jobs, according to the government. Of those job losses, 700,000 stem from layoffs at just 25 companies, according to 24/7 Wall Street's analysis of data from employment consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Certain industries figure prominently on this list of layoff kings. The auto industry, for example, is estimated to have cut nearly 200,000 jobs in the U.S. since 2006. The industry's union, the United Auto Workers, has been able to preserve blue collar jobs in the industry for decades, but the recession and foreign competition have proven too formidable for the union to fight against.
The financial services sector is another culprit. The financial meltdown forced some banks to close (Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns) and others to be acquired (Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual), leaving hundreds of bankers, brokers and assistants without jobs.
A growing number of unemployed workers translated into slower sales of consumer products and the materials used to make them. Companies that turn commodities into finished products, such as Alcoa, DuPont and Dow Chemical, have felt the pressure of that shrinking spending. Each have been squeezed as prices for their end products fell by more than the underlying prices of raw materials, such as metals and chemicals.
Drugmakers have been facing another set of issues. Many have blockbuster drugs that either lost patent protection or will soon, opening the door for cheaper, copycat generics. The research and development efforts at the big pharmaceutical firms have largely been unable to create a new pipeline of billion-dollar drugs to replace those sales, resulting in cuts in both sales and R&D workers.
The recession is supposed to be over. But with unemployment at nearly 10% and long-term unemployment at an 80-year high, there's not much evidence that the downturn has ended. In fact, after a brief flirtation with recovery earlier this year, more signs are showing that the economy is worsening again. So while large-scale layoffs -- those in which a single company cuts thousands or tens of thousands of workers -- may be over, another deep recession may unfortunately lead to a repeat of the trend.
1. General Motors
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 107,357
The entire auto industry felt the pain of the recession -- U.S. car sales dropped from an average 16 million a year in 2005 to 11 million in 2009. GM was especially hard hit, forcing it to cut tens of thousands of workers. The largest layoffs came in February 2009, when the company let go of 50,000 people -- almost 20% of its workforce. Those cuts, however, weren't enough to keep the company solvent. GM ended up filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection four months later.
2. Citigroup (C)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 73,056
In October 2008, a desperate Vikram Pandit, CEO of Citi, said the financial firm had no alternative than to cut 50,000 jobs as part of a plan to knock down expenses by 20%. The bank was reeling from subprime mortgage losses that had driven its stock down from $35 to under $4 in less than a year. Lehman Brothers had just collapsed, and investors holding shares in America's largest banks were in a panic. Pandit began the downsizing process earlier in 2008 after severe criticism that his predecessor Chuck Prince had allowed Citi to become bloated with expenses.
3. Hewlett-Packard (HPQ)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 47,540
The huge jobs cuts at HP will always be known at the Mark Hurd firings. Hurd, himself, was let go earlier this month. Much of Hurd's success at HP was based on cost-cutting. Previous CEO Carly Fiorina sharply expanded the company's employee and cost base with the acquisition of Compaq. The new CEO bought info-tech consulting firm EDS in 2008 and decided to dismiss 24,600 "redundant" employees. The world's largest tech company also let go almost 6,000 workers in 2009 as it combined two divisions and 9,000 in its struggling enterprise services operation in June.
4. Circuit City Stores
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 41,495
Circuit City slowly succumbed to pricing pressure and competition from both Best Buy and Wal-Mart. It began with aggressive layoffs in 2007 and completely shut its doors in 2009, bringing total layoffs to more than 40,000 after it closed 567 stores.
5. Merrill Lynch
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 40,650
In early 2008, the investment bank and brokerage cut 15% of its workforce as the credit crisis gripped the sector and the company's earnings dropped. When Bank of America (BAC) took over Merrill at the end of 2008, it announced that another 30,000 people would be out of work -- some of whom worked at Merrill and others at Bank of America.
6. Verizon Wireless (VZ)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 39,000
Verizon Wireless laid off a large number of employees after it bought Alltel in 2009. While the move was more about consolidating costs than about the recession, it couldn't have come at a worse time for the thousands of workers who found themselves without jobs.
7. Pfizer (PFE)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 31,771
Pfizer suffered from a slowdown in sales after many of its drugs went off patent and generic-drug companies poached sales. The drugmaker was forced to cut R&D spending and pare the size of its sales force in 2008. Then, after its mega-merger with Wyeth, Pfizer instituted even more layoffs. It now says it will continue major downsizing through 2012.
8. Merck & Co. (MRK)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 24,400
As a result of Merck losing patent protection on many of its major drugs, it has embarked on several rounds of jobs cuts.The biggest blow came when the company decided to cut 15,000 people who were considered "redundant" after Merck bought rival Schering-Plough.
9. Lehman Brothers
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 23,340
The investment bank went out of business. Everyone lost their jobs.
10. Caterpillar (CAT)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 23,024
Severely hurt by the downturn in construction and infrastructure building that occurred during the recession, Caterpillar cut staff to bring costs in line with revenue. The axe came down hard in January 2009 when the company cut 20,000 people.
11. JPMorgan Chase (JPM)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 22,852
The credit crisis caused the near-collapse of big mortgage lender Washington Mutual. JPMorgan bought most of the faltering company and cut redundant staff, including 9,200 workers in December 2008.
12. Starbucks (SBUX)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 21,316
Starbucks is a victim of its own success. Its rapidly expanding popularity caused it to open thousand of stores between 2000 and 2007. But when the recession sparked consumers to cut back on the $4 lattes, it started to feel the pain of sliding sales. The company even called back founder Howard Schultz to be CEO. To bring costs in line with falling revenue, Schultz closed 300 stores and fired 6,000 workers in January 2009.
13. AT&T (T)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 18,401
Another victim of the recession and the severe drop in its legacy landline business -- customers have moved to cell phones and Internet calling services. Ma Bell cut 12,000 people, announced at the end of 2008.
14. Alcoa (AA)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 17,655
Lower aluminum prices hit the world's third-largest aluminum company hard in early 2009, leading it to shed 13,500 people. "These are extraordinary times, requiring speed and decisiveness to address the current economic downturn," the company's CEO said. Unlike many of his employees, however, he kept his job.
15. Dow Chemical (DOW)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 17,530
A drop in commodities prices and the recession hurt Dow in much the same way as Alcoa. Dow decided to focus on highly profitable specialty chemicals and cut its workforce by 5,000 in early 2009. It made further cuts when it bought rival Rohm & Haas.
16. DuPont (DD)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 17,000
DuPont is yet another company that had its sales undermined by a drop in commodities prices and sales damaged in the global downturn. It canned 2,500 employees and 4,000 contractors in late 2008.
17. Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 16,900
Berkshire Hathaway has over 80 operating units. It instituted layoffs at half of them in 2008 and 2009. Among the types of companies hardest hit: insurance and manufacturing.
18. Ford Motor (F)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 15,912
Like many other automakers, Ford felt the pain of nosediving sales. Not only did the company have to cut workers at its core business but also at its Ford Motor Credit unit, which recorded a net loss of $228 million in the last quarter of 2008. The company also had to write down $2.1 billion in leases and car loans.
19. KB Toys
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 15,100
KB Toys has posted weak numbers since 2004, when it cut 3,500 people and closed 375 stores. In December 2008, the company filed for bankruptcy, closing 431 stores and firing most of the balance of its workers.
20. United States Postal Service
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 15,000
Competition from faxes, email and overnight mail carriers, as well as rising costs, took a toll on the U.S. Postal Service. In March 2009, it closed eight of it 60 district offices, offered buyouts for the rank and file and sharply cut administrative staff.
21. DHL Express USA
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 14,900
DHL couldn't keep up with competition from UPS and FedEx, and it laid off almost 10,000 workers when it decided to exit the ground- and air-delivery business in U.S. completely in November 2008.
22. Sprint Nextel (S)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 14,500
The third-largest cellular service provider in the U.S. cut 4,000 people and closed 125 retail outlets in January 2008. News of the layoffs came on the heels of Sprint's quarterly report, which divulged that the carrier had lost 100,000 subscribers during the last three months of 2007.
23. Sun Microsystems
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 14,000
Sun Microsystems tried to cut its way to profitability for years before it was purchased by Oracle (ORCL) in 2009. The company's core server business couldn't compete with larger rivals IBM and HP. In November 2008, Sun cut almost 6,000 people -- over 15% of its workforce.
24. Boeing (BA)
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 13,715
Slow sales in 2008 caused 10,000 layoffs in early 2009. The fact that the firm's flagship Dreamliner 787 delivery has been delayed half a dozen times didn't help matters.
Number of jobs cut since recession began: 13,672
The bad fortunes of the car industry caused the third-largest U.S. carmaker to lay off 12,000 people in late 2007. Later, the company fired another 5,000 employees -- or about 25% of its salaried workers. Unfortunately, even after all those cuts, Chrysler still filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
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