Jan 3, 2020 - Economy

Growing divide between the two Americas

Illustration of two hands exchanging different size bills

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Life in the U.S. is increasingly divided into two realities — one in which things have almost never been better and another in which it's hard to imagine them being worse.

Driving the news: Bankruptcies led more companies to announce job cuts last year than at any time in more than a decade, WSJ's Aisha Al-Muslim reports (subscription), citing data from outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas.

Details: Despite the latest jobs report from the Labor Department showing the unemployment rate near a 50-year low, 2019 saw the third highest number of total layoffs in the decade, with nearly 600,000 people losing their jobs, a 10% increase over 2018.

  • There were more job cuts related to bankruptcy in 2019 than in both 2008 and 2009, during the Great Recession.
  • 2019 was the year the oft-invoked healthy American consumer carried the economy, but U.S. retailers announced 9,302 store closings, a 59% increase from 2018 and the highest number since Coresight Research began tracking the data in 2012.

The intrigue: Overall, job gains and growth have been confined to certain areas and industries.

  • While the U.S. added an average of 180,000 jobs a month in 2019, the retail, mining and utilities sectors all saw net job losses for the year, as of November, which is the last month with available data.
  • The lion's share of new jobs has been in health care, leisure and hospitality, and professional and business services.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Philadelphia Fed shows nine states are expected to see their economies shrink this year, even as the central bank and most economists expect the U.S. as a whole will avoid recession.

  • The number of states projected to see contracting economies is the highest since July 2009.

What we're watching: The U.S. jobs report will be released Friday, Jan. 10, not today.

Go deeper: An unsettling future for millions of American jobs

Go deeper