The Private Sector is Not Doing Fine

BLS: 1.8M private sector employees laid off in August

October 10, 2012

President Barack Obama famously blamed the bad economy on a struggling public sector, but a new Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report shows that the issuance of pink slips has slowed among government workers while jumping across much of private industry.

In August, nearly 1.8 million private sector employees were laid off—up nearly 300,000 from July and nearly 100,000 from August 2011. Those layoffs came just two months after Obama proclaimed that "the private sector is doing fine" and attributed struggling job creation to government layoffs.

"The private sector is doing fine. Where we're seeing weaknesses in our economy have to do with state and local government," he said in June. "If Republicans want to be helpful, if they really want to move forward and put people back to work, what they should be thinking about is how do we help state and local governments and how do we help the construction industry?"

The latest BLS numbers tell a different story. Federal employees saw decreased job loss over the year, while layoffs at the state and local level grew by about 2 percent—less than half the 4.4 percent layoff increase experienced by the private sector.

The construction industry provided one of the few strong points in the BLS report, as layoffs decreased 14.6 percent over the year. Mining and logging, on the other hand, were among the hardest hit industries: Layoffs jumped more than 50 percent over the year, as the industry faces increased uncertainty over the Obama administration’s proposed coal regulations.

The August numbers do not reflect several massive layoffs that rocked the coal industry in September, including the fourth round of mass layoffs at Alpha Natural Resources. The coal giant closed eight mines and eliminated 1,200 jobs—nearly 10 percent of its workforce—on September 18.

"With fundamental changes taking place in our business, we're taking decisive actions that set the table for Alpha to compete successfully as a leader in the global coal markets for years to come," Alpha CEO Kevin Crutchfield said in a release.

The August hiring and job opening rates remain flat from the year before, leading JP Morgan to conclude that "the labor market has lost some momentum in recent months and conditions still look soft."