The outplacement firm of Challenger, Gray & Christmas on Thursday released its job-cuts report for May, showing that a total of 31,517 jobs were cut during the month, a drop of 12.6% month over month following a month-over-month decline in firings of 40% in April. For the first five months of the year, employers have slashed 207,977 jobs, compared to a total of 195,895 in the first five months of last year, an increase of about 6.2%.
The striking data point in Challenger’s May report is the big difference in planned hiring reported for the first five months of 2018 compared to the same period a year ago. For the year to date, companies have announced plans to hire 220,071 workers, compared to a total of 428,256 new hires planned in the same period last year.
Why are U.S. employers planning to add so few jobs? The Republican tax cut bill passed last December put a lot more cash in company bank accounts, cash that could be used to expand both capital investment and create new jobs.
Those investments do not appear to be happening. It could be that companies are fully staffed —after all, unemployment is below 4%. Or it could be that productivity gains have been so substantial that companies can get by with lower staffing levels.
In an economy that is growing, however, hiring, wages and productivity would be rising, and that’s not what’s going on. What is rising is company profits and, for shareholders in publicly traded companies, returns, mostly in the form of stock buybacks.
Employee wages aren’t rising, new jobs are not being created and investment in growth is stagnant. A decline in the number of jobs lost doesn’t begin to offset what for most Americans is a tepid economy.