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First Cut: Challenger layoff intentions in March were huge, but so here hiring intentions

The Challenger report on layoff intentions for March surged 292.3% to 222,288 after a relatively mild 56,660 in February. The level was up 266.9% from the 60,587 in March 2019. The massive increase wasn’t a surprise and Challenger laid the cause squarely on the COVID-19 pandemic. Challenger noted the increase in the first quarter 2020 is at 346,863 and was the largest quarterly gain since 562,510 in the first quarter 2009.

The largest increases in March were in entertainment/leisure (93,193, or 41.9% of the total) and services (37,854, or 17.0% of the total). There were also large number of announcements in automotive (13,076) and retail (11,285) that were part of the trend before the unmistakable arrival of COVID-19.


Reasons cited for layoffs were by far given as COVID-19 (141,844, or 63.8% of the total) or as no reason (54,300, or 24.4% of the total). The disaster that is the pandemic has claimed an extraordinary number of jobs and forced businesses reassess their outlook. At the moment there’s a sense that this is a temporary – if dire – situation. However, the extension of social distancing measures means more jobs are on the line.

What at first glance seems counterintuitive, hiring intentions exploded 834.9% to 824,610 in March from 88,202 in February and were up 4937.9% from 16,368 in March 2019. However, in the wake of massive store closings and restricted access, delivery services were in need of drivers and stores of other service workers to prep online orders. Of the March intentions, the two largest were retail (462,010, or 56.0% of the total) and transportation (302,000, or 36.6% of the total). It may be that out of necessity some workers — primarily those not covered by unemployment benefits — laid off due to measures taken to stem the spread of the virus will take the other jobs to fill in for now.



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