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Thousands Of Workers Begin Week With Layoffs

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

The economy continues to lose jobs at a disturbing pace. Yesterday, several big corporations announced major layoffs. NPR's Wendy Kaufman has more.

WENDY KAUFMAN: The layoff announcement from Caterpillar, the world's largest maker of construction equipment and an economic bellwether, was all too familiar. Quarterly profits were down; the future is dim. Thus, the company is shedding about 20,000 positions, including contract and other workers.

Other big cuts were announced yesterday by Sprint-Nextel, Home Depot and Texas Instruments. Drug maker Pfizer, which is buying rival Wyeth, said it planned to eliminate about 19,000 jobs, or about 5 percent of the combined company's workforce. Typically, companies are cutting jobs through layoffs and attrition.

Mr. KEN GOLDSTEIN (Labor Economist, The Conference Board): I don't know anybody who really saw that this was going to get this bad this quickly.

KAUFMAN: Conference Board economist Ken Goldstein says the January job cuts come on top of huge job losses in November and December. That was the worst two-month period for such losses in half a century.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Part of the reason why we have folks down in Washington, D.C., talking about spending a huge amount of money in terms of a stimulative program is precisely because of just how bad the situation is, and how quickly it developed momentum.

KAUFMAN: The unemployment rate now stands at 7.2 percent. Over the next year, it's widely expected to go to 8 percent, possibly hitting 9 percent. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Wendy Kaufman