California layoffs jump 60% to 27-month high

California bosses laid off 236,000 workers in March, a 60% jump from the average pace of job cuts in the previous 12 months.

The jump in workers’ involuntary departures to the fastest pace since December 2020 was found in my trusty spreadsheet’s review of the federal government’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey. The report, dubbed “JOLTS” by economists, tracks what’s moving the job market.

March’s layoffs are nowhere near the historic 1.5 million cuts of March 2020 amid coronavirus lockdowns. However, it’s a noteworthy spike that follows months of high-profile job cuts, notably in California’s technology industries and several eye-catching bank failures.

The bump in worker discharges is also a warning signal that the Federal Reserve’s year-long attempt attempts to cool an overheated economy with soaring interest rates are making bosses antsy.

California’s March layoffs are 25% larger than the monthly average in pre-pandemic 2015-19, what’s considered a healthy economic period. And they’re 7% bigger than the 2002-2006 housing-fueled boom. Those March cuts also are 12% above the typical month since 2001.

Or look at the March firings this way: Layoffs equaled 1.3% of all workers, up sharply from the 0.8% average of the previous 12 months.

Plus, it’s not a one-month uptick. Bosses laid off 1.84 million in the past 12 months – up 13% from 1.63 million in the previous 12 months.

Let me note the recent layoff spree is historically modest: Since 2001, the typical 12-month period has averaged 2.55 million forced departures.

Other slow signs

Growing boss unease also can be found in the number of job openings – 911,000, the lowest since March 2021 and down 24% vs. the average of the previous 12 months.

Still, California bosses seem to be hurting for workers. Historically speaking, openings are up 33% vs. 2015-19, and they’re up 108% vs. 2002-2006.

The need for employees equals 4.8% of all workers in March. That’s down from the 6.3% average in the previous 12 months, but it’s still well above the 3.9% pace of 2015-19, and 2.9% in 2002-2006.

But when you look at California’s openings as a measure of worker availability, the job market is tightening.

There were 90 unemployed workers for every opening in March vs. 68 on average in the previous 12 months. But talent is still hard to find: there were 143 jobless for every opening in 2015-19 and 250 in 2002-2006.

Do not forget bosses are still hiring, though at a slower speed.

The 606,000 new workers added in March was down 1% vs. the previous 12 months. New staff equaled 3.4% of all jobs in March vs. 3.5% average in the previous 12 months.

Nevertheless, this is a cooling of staff additions. The 7.36 million hired in the past year is down 6% from the previous 12 months.

Quits chill

Workers also are sensing the chill, leading to a dwindling voluntary departure count.

California had 363,000 quits in March, the fewest since March 2021 and down 11% vs. the previous 12-month average. Or look at the pullback this way: The 4.83 million quits of the past year are down 6% from 5.13 million in the previous 12 months.

Yet this might be job quits returning to a more normal pace for an otherwise solid economy.

Yes, quitters were 2% of workers in March, the smallest share since January 2021, and down from the 2.3% average of the previous 12 months.

But California’s “so long, boss” crowd is only a shade above the 1.9% average of both the 2015-19 and 2002-2006 job-growth periods.

Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at

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