The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act aims to protect workers by requiring employers to provide advance notice of a business closing or of mass layoffs. We have been tracking these reported layoffs and closings since March of 2020.
What the Durham Data Show
- Over 600 Durham workers lost their jobs in 2021
- Layoffs have been increasing since 2016 but peaked in the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic
- 2021 saw fewer layoffs but numbers are still higher than pre-pandemic years
- The greatest numbers of layoffs were at the end of each quarter
Durham Layoff Events in 2021
There were 7 layoff events reported in Durham in 2021, but they involved a large number of workers – 608 employees in total. All were permanent closures or layoffs. More on these events here.
Reflections on WARN Data
In our 2020 year end summary, we discussed limitations of the WARN data. Mainly, the WARN Act requirements don’t apply to all job losses, so we don’t have complete estimates of all lost jobs. And in 2021, the data were infrequently updated. Because of this, we are suspending our regular WARN data reports. However, we will continue to collect and track the data, and we will provide comments on trends as they feel appropriate.
More Context on Job Loss
According to the Carolina Tracker, in September of 2021, 7.2 out of 1000 people aged 15 and older applied for initial unemployment insurance in North Carolina. As of October of 2021, approximately 66,000 people were unemployed in North Carolina; 5,590 of these unemployment claims were filed in Durham County.1
Since people who work part-time are reflected in employment tracking, standard unemployment data miss how many people are working in jobs with too few hours to meet their needs, are so discouraged that they are no longer looking for work, or are underemployed. In other words, being counted as an employed individual does in no way reflect well-being.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) uses alternative measures to represent this “labor underutilization.” The fourth quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021 data show a U6 for North Carolina of 9.5%. This metric is defined as the total unemployed plus marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers – and it’s substantially higher than the 3.9% unemployment rate reported by NC Commerce.
Workers’ COVID-19 Safety Needs
As we begin 2022, we think it continues to be important to pay attention to lost work. We want to contribute to the dialogue pushing back against the increasingly prominent narrative of “labor shortage.” While businesses are certainly struggling to maintain full staff rosters, this framing overshadows the underlying problem–a shortage of safe work. There is a substantial number of people out of work because they are sick, observing isolation or quarantine guidance, and/or are unable to offset childcare costs with wages from available work.
All of this is compounded by a lack of workplace regulation. Employers are not required to provide masks, testing, or sick leave. Tests are difficult to access, government guidance messaging is confusing, and some employers require proof of positive testing to acquire COVID-19 sick leave. Meanwhile, limited federal assistance is disappearing, and people face increased pressure to sacrifice safety for income. At minimum workers need:
- Free KN95 or N95 masks
- Free, regular testing
- Paid sick, quarantine, and isolation leave
- Vaccine mandates, equitable delivery
- Loss of work continues to impact Durham residents, and all layoffs last year were permanent
- Data on job loss and unemployment is limited and many workers are left uncounted
- DataWorks will continue to collect layoff and closure data, but we will suspend regular reports
- We will dedicate efforts toward supporting the safety of Durham workers