The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act protects workers by requiring employers to provide advance notice of a business closing or of mass layoffs. Since mid-March, we have been tracking these reported layoffs and closings and have summarized the data for 2020.
What the data show
- Between March and December, more than 30,000 employees of large companies have been laid off either temporarily or lost their jobs permanently.
- The first six months of the pandemic were an almost uninterrupted streak of weekly closures and layoffs.
- 73% of closures and layoff events since the pandemic began in NC affected 25 or more employees. 87% affected 10 employees or more.
Not only were specific industries impacted more than others (retail, hospitality, food service), workers in North Carolina counties were affected at differing rates. Temporary layoffs and closures, for example, affected urban workers more. Durham County had the highest rate of workers impacted by temporary layoffs and closures (6.04 per 1,000). Lee County had the highest rate of workers impacted by permanent layoffs and closures (12.5 per 1,000).
As of December 29, a total of 31,323 employees in North Carolina either lost their jobs, were furloughed, or had a reduction in their work hours.
The data are not all-encompassing
Because businesses with at least 50 employees or those that plan to conduct mass layoffs are the ones required to file a WARN notice, many local establishments are not reflected in the Department of Commerce data. A drive through Durham, with its boarded-up corner stores, “closed until further notice” signs on favorite restaurants, or curbside pick-up options, confirms that there is a lot we still don’t know.
- There is no way to know the number of employees who were temporarily laid off who have gotten their jobs back or in what capacity, i.e., were they laid off as full-time employees, then hired back as part-time employees?
- The data don’t begin to show the smaller businesses that have closed and haven’t been reported.
- Though the WARN Report summarizes layoffs and closings per county, a more in-depth understanding of each county’s population size and age is needed to determine the full impact of job loss per county. According to the Carolina Tracker, in November of 2020, 11 out of every 1000 employees have lost their jobs since January through mass layoffs/closures in North Carolina. And in October of 2020, 8.9 out of 1000 people aged 15 and older applied for initial unemployment insurance in North Carolina. Just under 45,0001 unemployment claims filed in Durham County from March through October.
And more importantly, we’re left questioning how these employees have been coping with the challenges of losing employment during a pandemic.
The impact is personal
In March, a Durham retail store gave notice that it would close temporarily. Of the nine employees whose lives were upended, some returned to work four months later. One employee shared her experience.
“I was actually the third person back in my store,” described one retail worker, who preferred to remain anonymous. “My store manager from before the pandemic — she didn’t know if she was going back or not. She ended up losing her job at our store and had to transfer to an out-of-state store or risk losing her job with the company.”
The impact is unexpected
The pandemic’s impact has been both personal and unexpected, where doing business as usual no longer applies.
“The way we run almost everything is completely different. The way we do our stock is different. We have less people that can go into the back of the store to restock, so we have to keep more stock on the floor. The employee roles are completely different. The company had to come up with all new roles.”
“We have a different customer acronym — the way we deliver customer service. We used to spend more one-on-one time with customers. Answering their questions as quickly and politely and thoroughly as possible and then moving onto the next customers, which affects sales and you don’t have as much time to add on products to customers. For the customer, it feels like you’re actually trying to sell them something rather than having an engaging conversation with them. It feels a lot less genuine to them especially when you’re trying to get them to buy something.”
The impact of unsafe behavior
The number of Durham County retail jobs increased by about 10% from 2000 to 2018. But housing costs escalated and wages stayed almost flat when adjusted for inflation. An average retail weekly wage was $566 in the year 2000, and $573 in 2018. The pandemic is layered onto existing crises, where workers sacrifice for the convenience of the clientele.
Sometimes, I want to go cry in the back.Durham retail worker
“I had this customer. I know she’s a regular. I recognized her and her daughters before the pandemic. Her daughters don’t keep their masks in the store, but I know she will drop $200. Do I want to lose a sale because I know she’ll be pissed off because I keep telling her daughters to keep their masks on? Or do I lose the sale? That’s really hard.”
“No matter how politely you say, ‘can you please put on your mask?’ you’ll get a variety of responses.”
These are my individual freedoms. These are my rights. You can’t tell me what to do.
“People will start coughing. “
“It’s emotionally laboring and exhausting to get all of those responses from people. Their responses show zero understanding of what we have to do as employees and the rules we have to enforce. Sometimes, I want to go cry in the back.”
A peak into 2021
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues rising in NC, the number of business closings in 2021 could mimic what we’ve seen in 2020. A few businesses have already reported future layoffs and closings that will go into effect well into the first quarter of the new year. We will continue to monitor the data, holding in our hearts the stories of each person, family, and community reflected in the numbers.
1Carolina Tracker – 44,791 new unemployment filings March – October 2020.