Pace of layoffs starting to subside

LOS ANGELES — Large and midsize businesses continued to lay off workers through the end of 2009 but at a significantly slower pace, according to new U.S. employment data.

Citing organizational changes, financial concerns and lack of demand for their products, companies let 321,569 people go in what the federal government calls "mass layoffs" of more than 50 employees during the last three months of the year.

Layoffs have fallen sharply in the Wichita area in recent months, according to the Workforce Alliance for South Central Kansas. Area businesses laid off about 13,200 people through July. Since then, about 3,250 have been laid off.

Among large metropolitan areas, the Los Angeles-Orange County region was the nation's hardest hit, losing about 19,000 jobs since October. It was followed by Chicago, New York, the Inland Empire of California and the San Francisco Bay area.

But despite the losses, the data appear to show that the flow of pink slips from big and midsize employers is starting to subside.

In California, for example, 395 companies laid off large numbers of employees from September through December. The 65,000 who lost their jobs in the state accounted for about a fifth of the total nationwide. But that was considerably fewer than the 117,000 Californians who lost their jobs in large layoffs during July, August and September.

Nationwide, it was the first time in three years that the number of layoffs dropped from one quarter to the next. The nationwide toll for the third quarter was 345,367, about 7 percent more than in the fourth quarter.

"The loss of jobs that we've been seeing since December 2007 appears to be abating," said Richard Holden, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The measure of mass layoffs is important because it indicates the degree to which large and midsize companies are struggling, Holden said. Metropolitan areas are hit particularly hard by these larger incidents of downsizing, because big companies are typically in major cities.

Nationwide, the manufacturing sector accounted for about a quarter of the total layoffs, as 83,700 workers lost their jobs.

Construction firms laid off about 83,000. And 26,000 hotel and restaurant employees and 10,100 retail workers were cut.