Issue of the week: No relief on the jobs front

Though they are slowing, job losses are still occurring in almost all sectors of the economy.

About the best that can be said about the U.S. job market is that it’s getting worse at a slower rate, said Patricia Marroquin in While there are some signs of an economic rebound, last week’s employment survey from the Conference Board showed that businesses were still busily slashing payrolls, but without quite as much fury as in earlier months. “The most intense stage of job losses may be behind us,” says Conference Board economist Gad Levanon. But labor-market experts can’t say when the job market will stop falling and actually bounce back. In the Society for Human Resource Management’s latest poll of human-resources professionals, seven of 10 “foresee a weak hiring environment in the second quarter of 2009.” The job losses are extending into all corners of the economy, said Jeff Thredgold in From construction to retail, manufacturing to government, “almost no sector is avoiding job cuts.” Only health care and education reported increased hiring in the Labor Department’s latest employment survey, “although the net increase of 8,000 jobs was the weakest in that sector in many moons.”

It’s hard to overstate how rare it is for health-care employment to shrink, said Avery Johnson and Kelly Evans in The Wall Street Journal. “Health care usually weathers downturns better than many other industries because consumers tend to cut spending on cars or clothes before they forgo trips to the emergency room or pharmacy.” But it’s different this time. Hospitals are caught in a vicious cycle of falling revenue, a drop in elective procedures—“which reap big profits”—and a rising number of uninsured patients. As a result, they’re trimming payrolls, freezing hiring, and delaying expansion plans. Hospitals in Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston have announced layoffs, and “pharmaceutical firms and health insurers are also shedding jobs,” with Johnson & Johnson announcing 900 layoffs just last week.

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