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January is often a big month for layoffs. Here's what to do in a worst case scenario

Unemployment tends to rise in January, historically one of the busiest months for layoffs.
Anchalee Phanmaha
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Unemployment tends to rise in January, historically one of the busiest months for layoffs.

January is historically the busiest month for job cuts.

The first month of the year "is when most companies are doing restructures, reorganizations and setting the direction," says Sarah Rodehorst, co-founder of Onwards HR, which helps companies carry out layoffs, adding that tech, health care, banking and finance are likely to see the biggest cuts in 2023.

Already, Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon has announced widespread layoffs at the investment bank in the first half of January, citing slowing economic activity.

After a year of rising inflation and a series of big interest rate hikes, companies are skittish about the possibility of a looming recession. One in 3 companies expects to lay off 30% or more of their workforce in 2023, according to a December survey of 1,000 business leaders by Resume Builder.

The reductions so far have cut across industries. Morgan Stanley, Amazon, Netflix, Cisco, CNN, and dozens of other companies all let go of staff in 2022. Meta, Facebook's parent company, reduced its workforce by 13%. Despite those cuts, the labor market remains resilient, as U.S. employers have been consistently adding more jobs than there are workers to fill them. But that dynamic may change in 2023.

In December, Fed officials predicted the unemployment rate would reach 4.6% by the end 2023, up from 3.7% in November.

While that's still historically low, it's an uptick that would nevertheless impact hundreds of thousands of workers.

So, what should you do if you if you're cut loose? Here are some tips:

Share the news far and wide

Losing a job can be devastating and it might be a little while before you're ready to tell friends, family, or people in your professional network, let alone the world. But sharing the news far and wide — on social media — can go a long ways in landing that next opportunity.

"One of the things we're finding is one of the fastest way to find your next job is to post that you just were laid off by a really well-known company and your skills are sought after," says Rodehorst of Onwards HR. "We've talked to recruiters and they are specifically searching for people who are doing those posts and especially how they handle and present themselves on those posts. If they're respectful to the company that may have laid them off, that just shows a sense of character."

File for unemployment asap

File for unemployment immediately because it can take a few weeks to start receiving benefits after filing a claim.

56% of Americans can't cover an unexpected $1,000 bill from their savings, according to Bankrate, and if the job search drags on, unemployment benefits will help keep you afloat.

Benefits vary from state to state. You will need to check your state's unemployment office to determine eligibility. Here's a contact list by state.

Ask your creditors for a break, no matter how brief

If you are at risk of a layoff, trying to wipe out your debt should take a back seat.

"You actually want to slow down your debt payoff or pause it so that you can save cash because in a layoff, cash is king," says Michelle Singletary, personal finance columnist for the Washington Post. "Make the minimum payments, but you want to prepare yourself for the possibility that those payments might need to stop while you focus on the necessities."

To avoid high interest rates or fees or a drop in your credit score for late payments, it's essential to call your lenders to explain your situation.

"One thing that many people don't do, which is really surprising and I hear this from lenders, is that they don't call. They feel embarrassed," says Singletary. "Most of the time the lender will work with you. Maybe you can do a partial payment with a home loan."

Did you take out a 401(k) loan?

It's not uncommon for workers to borrow money from their 401(k) accounts to help cover a big expense, like a down payment for a house or college tuition, and then pay themselves back, plus interest, over time. But those terms are often contingent on holding on to your job.

"You want to ask about how the loan will be treated when you're laid off," says Tammy Lally, a money coach and financial planner. "Some employers will give you a grace period to pay the balance. And then after that time, if the balance is not paid off, it will be considered as a withdraw and it will be fully taxed."

Schedule those doctor appointments asap

If you lose your job, you'll also lose the health insurance that came with it, which is why it's important to schedule any doctor's appointments you've been postponing if you sense a layoff is around the corner.

"Some employers will subsidize your health care for a certain period of time and others will stop subsidizing it on your last day of employment," says Lally. "You may also be offered COBRA, which is just a continuation of your health care and you'll want to look at healthcare.gov to compare it to other plans on the marketplace."

Cut yourself some slack

For better or worse, our identities are often tied to our work. Losing it suddenly, along with the meaning, purpose, or structure it offered, can feel like losing a part of one's self.

"We ought to allow people to grieve the loss of their job," says Singletary. "There are organizations where you can go online and get some free counseling, and when you lose your job, your insurance may not be canceled right away and you may want to see if you can get an appointment with a mental health provider."

Throughout this process, one key figure should offer some comfort, says Rodehorst.

"According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 66% of workers find new employment in fewer than 15 weeks."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Arezou Rezvani is a senior editor for NPR's Morning Edition and founding editor of Up First, NPR's daily news podcast.