Lehman layoffs, the tip of the iceberg

With thousands of Lehman workers preparing to pack their bags, experts say other Wall Street firms probably aren't done with layoffs either.

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By Jessica Dickler, CNNMoney.com staff writer

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NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Lehman Brothers employees face the bleakest employment conditions in recent Wall Street history, and experts say there will likely be more painful financial sector job losses to come.

"My phone has been ringing off the hook," said Paul Bernard, a veteran executive coach and career management adviser who runs his own firm.

On Monday, Lehman Brothers (LEH, Fortune 500) announced it would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after all rescue plans fell through and many employees at the 158-year old investment bank went to their offices and began to pack up their desks.

"Most people are assuming that they're out of a job at Lehman Brothers," said David Schwartz, head of executive search firm DN Schwartz & Co in New York. Schwartz said he wouldn't be surprised if upwards of 20,000 Lehman workers lose their jobs. That would amount to more than 75% of the company's total workforce.

At the same time, a merger between Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and Merrill Lynch (MER, Fortune 500) will also "inevitably result in more layoffs," said John Challenger, chief executive of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, adding to the tens of thousands of layoffs that have already occurred this year on Wall Street.

When Bear Stearns was acquired by JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) earlier this year, about 9,000 workers, or more than half of Bear Stearns' employees, lost their jobs - many of whom are still looking for full-time employment.

"Unfortunately, we've not seen the end of the layoffs on Wall Street and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better," Schwartz said.

Other experts also said the worst is yet to come. Between now and the end of the year, "the Wall Street layoffs are going to be enormous," according to Bernard.

Unlike past downturns, this will not just be a period of cutbacks, Bernard said. Rather, "the [financial] industry is going to be shrinking and shrinking rapidly." And that means that there will be economic repercussions felt throughout the city of New York and the country, he said.

Through August, financial firms have already eliminated an estimated 65,400 jobs over the past year, according to the latest employment figures from the Department of Labor.

But the pain has been particularly acute on Wall Street. Investment banks and brokerages there have shed about 9,300 jobs, or roughly 5% of their workforce, according to August's figures from the New York State Department of Labor.

And those who are currently, or are about to be, out of a job are facing the bleakest employment conditions in recent Wall Street history. "Only 20% to 25% of Lehman employees will eventually land Wall Street jobs," Bernard said. "There are just not that many jobs."

"It's like a game of musical chairs with too many people chasing the jobs that are left," Challenger added. To top of page

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