CORONAVIRUS

First layoffs from coronavirus are here

Drivers, travel jobs see hits

At the port of Los Angeles, 145 drivers have been laid off and others have been sent home without pay as massive ships f
At the port of Los Angeles, 145 drivers have been laid off and others have been sent home without pay as massive ships from China have stopped arriving and work has dried up. (Bloomberg News)
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Hundreds of Americans have lost jobs over the past week, as the coronavirus outbreak begins to take a deeper toll on the U.S. economy and brings more industries to a standstill, according to interviews with two dozen companies and workers.

Strong job growth has defined the U.S. economic expansion over the past decade.

The early layoffs are an indication of how the coronavirus is triggering a rapid turnaround in the American economy, which only weeks ago looked strong. Unemployment was at a half-century low.

At the port of Los Angeles, 145 drivers have been laid off and others have been sent home without pay as massive ships from China have stopped arriving and work has dried up.

At travel agencies in Atlanta and Los Angeles, several workers lost their jobs as bookings evaporate.

A stage lighting company in Las Vegas called Christie Lites laid off about 20 workers this week, and a hotel in downtown Seattle is doing away with an entire department, former employees of both said.

As many as 50 people lost their jobs after the cancellation of the popular South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

So far, many of the job losses have been concentrated in the travel, tourism, events and trucking industries. Economists fear there could be more layoffs in the coming weeks, as supply chains come to a halt and people stay home and spend less.

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“We will definitely see an effect on jobs from the coronavirus, and it could be pretty large in leisure and hospitality,” said Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter.

“The first thing we’ll see is a reduction in hours. We hear many reports of employers canceling staff everywhere except in health care.”

Baiden King was laid off from her job at a bake shop in Omaha, Neb., on Tuesday because online sales and customer traffic had dried up dramatically — especially after the state’s first case of COVID-19 was reported nearby.

Workers receiving pink slips said they have no idea if these layoffs will be permanent or temporary, and it’s nearly impossible to look for another job right now as many companies are instituting hiring freezes. Uncertainty is high, and as people lose jobs — or fear losing jobs — they typically scale back spending even more, which has a ripple effect on local economies.

The port of Los Angeles, the busiest port in the United States, has become a “ghost town,” four workers said. They have never seen anything like this before, not even during the Great Recession.

Shippers Transport Express sent layoff notices at the end of February to 145 drivers, who transport big containers from Asia from the LA port to corporate warehouse hubs.

The company told workers there’s been a “near shutdown” of its operations at the port “for the foreseeable future.” Many factories closed in China, stunting shipments to the United States.

Randy Williams, a trucker for Shippers Transport Express, said the port typically handles over 1,000 containers a night at their part of the port, including some Walmart products, and now it’s down to 200. He’s worked two days in the past two weeks.

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“The disruption to trade will be felt well beyond the dock workers,” said Stephen Levy, senior economist at the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy. “Half of China’s goods come to the port of Los Angeles. That will be felt by warehouse workers, truckers and people in the wholesale trade.”

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