Job cuts: Who's next

Employees from Wall Street to Main Street are feeling nervous about their jobs, but certain industries are more at risk than others.

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By Jessica Dickler, staff writer

If the U.S. enacts a second stimulus plan, what should be its top priority?
  • Extending unemployment benefits
  • Expanding food stamp program
  • Rebate checks to taxpayers
  • Help for small businesses

NEW YORK ( -- As the impact of the economic crisis takes hold, employees from Wall Street to Main Street are feeling nervous about their jobs, and with good reason.

As of September, 760,000 jobs have already been lost this year, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And a quarter of U.S. employers expect to make layoffs in the next 12 months, according to a recent report by consulting firm Watson Wyatt.

But which industries will suffer the most? Experts say certain sectors are more vulnerable to layoffs than others.

Housing: Jobs in the housing sector were the first to go when the mortgage meltdown took hold. But with the industry outlook at an all-time low, even more layoffs could follow.

Beyond mortgage lenders and homebuilders, jobs in commercial real-estate and at real-estate agencies will be the next to go, according to Dean Baker, director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.

With the worst September for new home sales since 1981, "some of the big [real-estate] chains will do some consolidation," Baker said, "clearly you need fewer offices," Baker said.

Finance: Few in the financial sector are feeling secure about their positions. The latest employment figures from the Department of Labor show financial firms have eliminated an estimated 110,000 jobs over the past year through September, and experts say there will be even more losses in the months ahead.

As financial firms reorganize and consolidate, there are going to be a lot more layoffs, Baker said.

"Financial services firms have cut tremendously and I don't think that's over," echoed Lee Pinkowitz, associate professor at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business.

Retail: Before the credit crunch, retailers were already struggling with soft sales as high gas prices and falling home equity forced consumers to curtail non-essential purchases. Now retail sales are dismal heading into the holiday season. "This could be the weakest holiday hiring season since 2001," said John Challenger, chief executive of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, and that's not good for those employed in the retail industry.

"I doubt we'll see the pick up in seasonal hiring that we'd normally see," Pinkowitz said.

But while department stores and high-end boutiques may be particularly hard hit, discount retailers, like Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) could fare well in the current climate, Challenger said. Wal-Mart is also the nation's largest private-sector employer, and could be a safe haven for those who work there.

Publishing: As consumers cut back, advertisers follow, and that means tough times for print publications, including newspapers and magazines, experts say.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, employment in the publishing industry has been contracting since the beginning of last year.

But the "grand decline" of jobs in the media industry, which also includes broadcast and digital media, began with the dot-com bust in 2001, noted Heidi Shierholz an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a research group based in Washington. Now a loss of jobs in traditional publishing is being exacerbated, in part, by the move away from print toward digital media.

"Every time you have a recession it pushes companies that have been holding on by their fingernails out of business," Challenger said. "It clears away an old generation of companies and I think we'll see that with print."

Autos: While sales at the Big Three automakers have fallen 20% this year and are likely to tumble further, trouble in the auto sector is not confined to manufacturing. All told, about 2 million Americans work in the industry.

While declining sales will likely lead to more job losses, those in "the tentacles of the auto industry" could be particularly hard hit in the coming months, Pinkowitz said, which includes those jobs at dealerships and suppliers.

Travel: Airlines have already announced layoffs across the board, but as consumers and businesses continue to scale back discretionary spending on travel, the implications go far beyond flying.

"All the industries under the umbrella of travel are going to be at risk" Challenger said, including rental cars, hotels and even restaurants.

If people are cutting back, travel and leisure activities are the easiest things to do without, explained Baker. Big restaurant chains will close locations, he said, which means eliminating many wait staff and service jobs, while some smaller restaurants will be forced out of business entirely.

But despite the mostly doom-and-gloom predictions, some say there are some bright spots ahead for American workers.

"Even if you're in an industry where there has been some job downturns, there still can be some opportunities," said Kimberly Bishop, vice chairman of Chicago-based executive search firm Slayton Search Partners.

Bishop suggests focusing on those skills and experiences that can translate beyond the industry in which you work. There are certain roles that every organization needs, she said, and you may be able to fulfill that role in another industry that has more promise. To top of page

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