S. Florida layoffs massive

After 21 years at the same Fort Lauderdale boat company, Robert Mulder lost his job. Mulder was laid off in November along with dozens of his co-workers, and now they face a job market that’s expected to get worse.

Mass layoffs are putting more people like Mulder out of work. The U.S. Department of Labor said Wednesday that 238,000 people lost their jobs in mass layoffs nationwide in January, a 60 percent increase from January 2007.

Nearly 2,600 people have been affected in Broward and Miami-Dade counties so far this year — and it’s only February.

This time last year, the number was less than 900.

Many of them face the prospect of long-term unemployment. Mulder and countless others, well-established in their careers, were suddenly thrust into a labor market that hasn’t enough jobs to go around.

”It’s pretty tough out there,” said Mulder, who was his company’s accounting manager and assistant controller. “Hopefully something will turn around, but you listen to the news and you get more depressed about what’s going to happen. I’m looking for stuff at lower salaries, temp to perm, anything.”

But the cuts won’t affect only the people whose jobs are eliminated. As the number of available jobs shrinks, competition will be keen for whatever’s left. That could push down wages.

”It isn’t just bad for people who are losing their jobs,” said Bruce Nissen, a labor sociologist at Florida International University. “It’s bad for everybody in terms of our incomes.”

The layoffs, which the Labor Department says affected 19,301 Floridians in January, cut across industries and geography.

The department defines mass layoffs as those involving 50 or more workers at a single company. Florida companies sometimes disclose smaller cuts to the state but also may fail to disclose larger cuts.

To some extent, mass layoffs are a normal part of the business cycle. While some industries rise, others fall. Technology and increased competition are major reasons: Automobiles destroyed the market for horse-drawn buggies, while Japanese TVs and stereos pushed American electronics manufacturers out of those businesses.

And technology and globalization have both been accelerating in recent years. The Internet has devastated entire industries, such as travel agencies (why call someone when you can buy tickets online?) and record stores (crushed by iTunes and other services that let customers buy music online in seconds).

Add a major economic downturn and you have an even more dismal picture. Firms and even entire industries struggling to deal with technological and competitive change can easily be pushed over the edge.

Take newspapers, for instance. For years, readers have been migrating from the print edition, where advertisements are profitable, to online editions, where they are less so. The recession and housing bust left retailers and real estate firms with little money to advertise — accelerating the industry’s problems.

Now Chicago-based Tribune, owner of the Sun Sentinel, is in bankruptcy. And McClatchy, owner of The Miami Herald, has cut 450 jobs in Miami in the past year, with further cuts expected.

In other industries, foreign competition for jobs or customers was at work long before the layoffs.

In the case of 159 Codman Neurovascular employees in Miami Lakes, the jobs are going to Ciudad Ju├írez, Mexico — a city just south of El Paso, Texas, where parent company Johnson & Johnson already has a plant.

Whatever the causes, mass layoffs can have a deep and lasting effect. Those laid off tend to be older and have years invested in their careers, said University of Florida economist Dave Denslow.

These people have found work they are comfortable with, and are abruptly forced to start over.

”It takes them a long time to find a new job,” Denslow said, adding they often have to take a pay cut. What’s more, research suggests that even years later, they may still be making less than their peers who were never let go.

”On average,” Denslow said, “you’re hurt forever.”

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