U.S. employers closed out the year with the lowest number of monthly job cuts in December since July 2018, but cut 592,556 jobs from their payrolls in 2019, 10% more than in 2018, according to a year-end report from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
Retail led the downsizing, with 77,475 job cuts in 2019, 21% lower than 2018 — 48,753 of them due to bankruptcies, according to the report, which was emailed to Retail Dive. In fact, job cuts due to bankruptcy, which overall were 10.5% of total cuts last year and the highest since 2005, were dominated by retailers, the firm said.
Retailers also announced 886,515 new jobs in 2019, the vast majority of them (789,781) seasonal.
The uncharacteristically low December job cuts reflect a "wait and see" approach going into 2020, according to firm Vice President Andrew Challenger.
Bankruptcies weren't the only reason for significant cuts. Companies cited restructuring for most of the total — 137,968 — with another 130,728 due to closures of operations. Trade difficulties accounted for 11,688 job cuts, and tariffs for 5,881.
Apparel retail, which in recent years has been beset by a host of rising challenges like changing consumer tastes and priorities, and the decline of the middle class, was hit particularly hard, according to Challenger's account. The sector last year saw job cuts rise by a whopping 74.8%, for a total of 2,386.
"The sectors with the highest number of cuts this year were all dealing with trade concerns, emerging technologies, and shifts in consumer behavior," Challenger said in a statement. "We tracked a lot of hiring activity in these industries as well as cuts."