Why are tech firms laying off workers in hot US jobs market?

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People walk outside Twitter headquarters in San Francisco, Nov. 4. Twitter and Facebook parent company Meta both made headlines this week for massive layoffs. (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Facebook parent Meta’s Wednesday announcement of plans to slash its workforce by 11,000 is just the latest in a wave of tech sector employment turmoil that’s bubbling up even as the overall U.S. jobs market continues to run red-hot.

The move comes less than a week after new Twitter owner Elon Musk pushed about 3,700 of the platform’s 7,500 employees out the door in the name of cost savings. Also last week, rideshare startup Lyft announced plans to cut its staffers by 13%, about 700 employees. And online giant Amazon posted a notice last Wednesday that it was instituting a company-wide hiring freeze “with the economy in an uncertain place and in light of how many people we have hired in the last few years.”

So, what’s the deal?

Pandemic-driven restrictions on in-person transactions and forced home isolations drove enormous growth among a wide swath of online goods and services providers. So, they hired like crazy to keep up with the new business. But now, a slowing economy and consumers’ collective return (more or less) to pre-pandemic spending habits is compelling tech businesses to adjust to new realities.

Tech layoffs amid a robust jobs market

Tech companies account for a relatively small slice of the overall U.S. labor market which added 261,000 jobs in October, according to the latest Labor Department reporting. And while the employment dynamic is still wildly out of balance, with nearly two job openings for every available worker, the hunger for adding workforce is waning. Job gains in October outpaced the expectations of most economists but were still down from September’s 315,000 new hires. A Labor Department report last Tuesday pegged unfilled jobs at 10.7 million in September, down from an all-time high of 11.9 million in March.

Many tech firms went on hiring frenzies in 2020 and 2021 in an attempt to keep pace with rising consumer demand. A bright example is exercise bike innovator Peloton which, for a while, couldn’t build enough bikes to keep pace with work-at-home customers who were on the hunt for in-house workout alternatives. The company’s workforce peaked at 4,000 amid the rush but interest has waned significantly as COVID-19 restrictions have disappeared and Peloton has since trimmed its employee rolls by half, so far, and has executed four rounds of layoffs this year.

“The pandemic created very unique, once-in-a-lifetime conditions in many different industries that caused a dramatic reallocation of capital,” Julia Pollak, chief economist at job recruiting site ZipRecruiter, told CNBC. “Many of those conditions no longer apply so you’re seeing a reallocation of capital back to more normal patterns.”

Facebook cuts budgets, perks, workers

As retailers, and particularly e-commerce sellers, back off on marketing and advertising budgets amid a slowdown in consumer spending from pandemic highs, ad-reliant companies are feeling the pinch first.

Meta/Facebook revenues are dominated by ad dollars and the company saw its first quarterly revenue decline in its history this summer, followed by even worse declines according to its fall financial reporting, per the Associated Press.

Facebook founder and Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Wednesday letter to employees that declining revenue growth was a driving force behind the decision to cut employees.

“We’ve cut costs across our business, including scaling back budgets, reducing perks, and shrinking our real estate footprint,” Zuckerberg wrote. “We’re restructuring teams to increase our efficiency. But these measures alone won’t bring our expenses in line with our revenue growth, so I’ve also made the hard decision to let people go.”

Zuckerberg also acknowledged that he got it wrong in anticipating the pandemic-induced surge in e-commerce would “be a permanent acceleration.”

“Unfortunately, this did not play out the way I expected,” Zuckerberg wrote. “Not only has online commerce returned to prior trends, but the macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused our revenue to be much lower than I’d expected.”

Musk has also cited Twitter’s declining ad revenues as the motivator for his decision to slash staff at the San Francisco-based social media platform.

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