Special Report

The Biggest Corporate Layoffs of All Time

Eleven American companies have laid off a total of nearly 600,000 people in the past two decades. Each also fired a large number of employees at one time to earn it a place among the largest corporate layoffs in modern American history.

According to information 24/7 Wall St. has reviewed, large layoffs are almost exclusively the result of two conditions. They happen in industries near the end of their most successful periods, or because of difficult economic conditions.

24/7 Wall St. took data from Challenger Gray & Christmas, which cover layoffs over the past several years. We examined the data by individual company. Some companies fired so many people in one instance that it was enough for them to make the list. In other cases, a company had two or three layoffs that made it qualify. We excluded companies that completely folded.

Two recessions accounted for many of the layoffs. The first was in the 2001 to 2002 period. The other was the deeper downturn of 2007 to 2009. Most of the layoffs not caused by recessions happened because companies in shrinking industries downsized their operations. The automotive sector is one such example. Ford, General Motors and Chrysler are all on this list. So are several banks, which were part of the consolidation as the financial industry shrunk after the 2007 credit crisis.

One case that stands out among those on the list is that of the U.S. Postal System. The USPS has cut 90,000 people in three layoffs over the past two decades. It has said it needs to cut another 28,000 people soon because the service loses billions of dollars each year. Unlike most of the other corporations on this list, technology and competition have destroyed the postal system’s future. It is easy to make the case that USPS layoffs will continue for several years.

This is the 24/7 Wall St. list of the “Largest U.S. Company Layoffs Ever.” It is a good snapshot of what happened in the American economy over the past 20 years as two recessions and a transformation of several industries changed the employment landscape significantly.