July 28, 2022

Historical layoff data (and what to do with it)

Writer’s block, it’s a terrible thing… 

This is what I get for telling Marketing, “sure, I’ll write an article to kick off our newsletter.” Two weeks later, I still haven’t done anything so it’s time to punt – let’s call the PR guy. “Hey Craig, didn’t you write an article on Curious Data, is that ready for posting yet?” “Yeah man, that went online 2 weeks ago!”. “So, do you have anything else in the hopper, maybe almost done?”   No love. I’m desperate now, and head out to the backyard farm to clear the head. 

While the dog chases my wife’s prize Easter Egger around, I think: why is this so hard? Out comes the phone, to my fave news reader (the one with the amorous robots). Bingo, Zuck! 

Mean Bosses and The Problem with Pre-Recorded Questions – Let’s get to the Layoffs! 

News on my feed: Mark Zuckerberg Visibly Frustrated Over Vacation Question 

If this one hasn’t already made the rounds in your feed, I’ll make it simple. Zuck channels Elon playing a regular businessman who wants to keep the company afloat: we’re going to need to work harder, and some people are not going to like it – some of you will probably need to leave. Except the pre-recorded staff Q&A includes, “Will we increase our Meta© brand personal wellness vacay days this Fall?” HR muffed that one, or maybe we are just watching a full-on clueless workforce unravel. Take your pick. 

Match the quote to the speaker: 

“Realistically, there are probably a bunch of people at the company who shouldn’t be here.”  Millennial worker 
“Any company that wants to have a lasting impact must practice disciplined prioritization.” Millennial Mega-billionaire CEO 
“Did Mark just say there are a bunch of people that don’t belong here? Well, who hired them anyway?” Corporate Communications Specialist 

Sounds like layoffs-a-coming!   

Here’s how this works for me, and why I love stretching the mind to look at Curious Data. 

Pick any topic, and there’s data to back it up. Could be sports, relationships, the Financial Dumpster Fire of Greater Fool Crypto Kiddies, maybe even the monthly crop report – there’s info about this, that, and the other. You just need to know where to look for it. Also it’s a great excuse for staring at the phone a lot – “It’s research for work, honey!” 

This one’s easy: 

Baby-faced CEO talks tough -> Google “historical layoff data” -> read about gov’t layoff alerting system -> Google “download layoff data” -> Click to download and assess it -> write a story about Curious Data -> Add to the database and keep on going

So where do we find Layoff Data? 

First, let’s tip our hat to the transparency mandate that comes with a professional civil service corps. Our government and its workers really do want to make things better and they’ve set up programs specifying release of data in the public interest. One such program in the US: the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) system that requires mid-to-large companies to give multi-week advance notice of upcoming layoffs.   

(How do you know a “good government” initiative?  It’s got a lame acronym, natch.) 

This is not an arm-twist to try and keep those jobs; instead, it’s about understanding impacts on societies and social programs and maybe a big stick for the companies that benefit so much from government funding

The assumption (and it’s mostly proven) is that PPP loans = job retention, and tax credits = long-term community investment.  When a company files pending layoffs with its statewide WARN agency, they fire off a series of actions from job training to financial support to yes, maybe a few political nudges.   

What do we get from this?  As citizens, we get enhanced support for families when times are tough.  As a data firm, we get Curious Data on the ebbs and flows of business. 

As a data explorer yourself, you should be looking at how you leverage this info to understand your community and improve your business. 

What do people do with WARN Layoff data? 

WARN is administered at a US State level, which means: just like COVID response or sensitive school curriculum topics, we get a variety of response rates, several data quality issues, and a need to spend time synchronizing information between agencies. It’s a data-focused reminder that it’s indeed the United States - not the United People - of America. What we see in WARN is solid country-wide info going back to at least 2016 in most states – some actually report data as far back as the early 90’s, a rarity in the public data business. 

Outside of the government agencies who have a specific purpose for this data, we see some interesting public uses of this Curious Data. 

My hometown layoff tracker 

In a surprising turn, my home state of Illinois has been actively reporting WARN data since 1999. We’ll give them a pass on uploading PDF’s until 2019, and switching to Excel only in 2020 – at least they have the data out there, which is more than we can say for other departments like the IL Secretary of State.  For more on this, see "But What if my Government’s Not Playing The Open Data Game?"

What they deliver is interesting to look at: Illinois WARN Reports. 

Here we see monthly reports, easily downloadable in machine-readable format just in time for the Pandemic Layoff cycle.  Some observations: 

  • 551 unique layoff events since 2020, covering 90K employees; 
  • Nearly half of the events were at multi-event company locations – meaning the company location had more than one instance of temporary, permanent, or complete operation closure. 

Now, it’s nice to look at Illinois in isolation, but the real interest comes in correlating information across the land. Again, if it were the UPA instead of the USA, you’d have a national database instead of 57 individual files (don’t forget the Territories). Think China. Easy to get the data in bulk, with a somewhat uneasy feeling that someone’s taking advantage of this data aggregation to do…something. Don’t worry, they do that in the US too, it just takes a lot more effort. Enter...

University Students (hackers?) and Researchers put it all together 

That effort to clean and combine data is the biggest lift once you know what you’re looking for. Truth be told, it’s those relations of data elements that forms the core of what we do here at rel8ed.to. 

But: it’s always great to lean on the community to get started. Enter the erstwhile University Student. These script kiddies do everything from track Elon’s flights on Twitter, launch famous software like the “I Love You” Virus, and sometimes aggregate state databases into a cohesive whole. We love Omer Arain’s work on the WARN Database.

Omer does the hard work of gathering and merging this data, with generally good results. Download the file into Excel and you’re on your way to some nationwide findings: 

  • Since 2020, we see over 2M workers laid off across 30K companies. 
  • Across the country, 1300+ unique firms have multiple layoff events over the years. 
  • The Midwest is laying off in 2022 at nearly double the rate of the rest of the country. Shape of things to come? 

Also of note is the work done at the Federal Reserve in Cleveland, where researcher Pavel Krolikowski has built out a prediction model for layoff trends. Bet many eyes will be focused here on the coming months, whether in Silicon Valley or maybe closer to home.

But what can YOU do with this data? 

Well, here’s what we’re doing with this Curious Data at rel8ed.to.

Maybe you’ll find something in this list that sparks your interest. If so, reach out to me and let’s talk about how we can help YOU use it, or how we can apply some of our Advanced Business Data techniques that can help your company succeed. 

  • Gather the data, clean and link into our Advanced Business Alerting system. We already know these companies, now we have a new vector of interest for our Diligence and Lead Gen subscribers. 
  • Analyze the impact of a layoff announcement on company viability. Our Proof-of-life engine now has some new data to work with. Along with everything from public filings, online traffic, social posts, recent inspections, etc. we add the notion of a recent layoff. Short-term this means the company is definitely alive (yet smaller) today. 
  • Assess employee and revenue models to see impacts over time. Do layoffs indicate future growth, or rather a right-sizing of the company during a downturn? 
  • Assess multi-event layoff companies (those 1300 that have multiple layoffs over years). Do multiple events imply a business problem? My gut is that it’s just the opposite – layoffs, like Spring Cleaning, offer an opportunity to renew and right-size for greater growth. But the numbers will tell… 
  • Direct Lead-Gen! This is a common missed opportunity when looking at any data set. If you’re in the business of generating New Business for your company, ask yourself: what does this layoff imply about the company and people involved? Here are a few to start: 
    • Laid-off workers start companies in their newly-found free time. (See: 2008, and every auto industry layoff ever). If you’re a banker, get ready for increases in trades sole proprietorships.  Our work with Canadian financial institutions shows these people will bank their business in their personal account for the first year.  Time to market cheap commercial accounts! 
    • Shrinking businesses need professional services support.  Think:  outsourced HR, or government program support from Accountants (see:  PPP loan paperwork). 
    • Time to renegotiate those contracts!  A different employee base means commercial real estate, leasing and insurance agents should be looking for angles to capture competitor business.  Gold mine opportunity with a limited time-window and a VERY eager client base looking to save. 
    • The opposite of the above:  if your client is going through a layoff, you’d better get on the phone with them NOW to make sure you retain this business.  Having done a round myself several years ago, I’ll tell you that every contract went through a keep-or-drop assessment.  Make sure yours is in the “keep” pile by offering attractive financing or variable terms to help your client through the leaner times. 

Got the ideas flowing on how to use some Curious Data on layoffs? I sure do. This is the best part of my job, when a real event brings opportunities to a fever pitch. 

Keep your chin up and your head on a swivel over the next 18 months…this is where you can make real things happen for your business. Just like Meta and Tesla are sure to do. 

Now, to see about that egg-eating dog… 


CEO, rel8ed.to Analytics

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