Layoffs at Large and Small Firms Sap Confidence Cuts by Major Employers like IBM Hit Hard; Retrenchment by Small Businesses Hurts, Too. US JOBS OUTLOOK

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EACH week, economist Edward Hyman, chairman of the International Strategy and Investment Group Inc., publishes a list of large American companies that have recently laid off workers.

According to Mr. Hyman's latest count, 156 firms - from Citicorp to Chrysler - have terminated employees since July 15.

The most stunning announcement came two weeks ago from International Business Machines Corporation (IBM), which will cut 20,000 workers, in addition to earlier layoffs, in an effort to reduce costs.

While these high-profile payrolls make the headlines, state employment offices point out that small and medium-sized businesses are also making employee cuts - or simply shutting down. Small businesses have been widely regarded as generators of jobs and economic growth.

"Job layoff reports, like Ed Hyman's, which fill an entire page with small print, show there is a real impact on the people who work for those companies. But they also influence public confidence," says Raymond Worseck, chief economist of A. G. Edwards & Sons Inc., a St. Louis-based securities firm.

Mr. Worseck says: "It's one thing if a person knows the plumber or the electrician down the street who's out of work, {and} he thinks it's because of the recession. But when IBM announces tens of thousands of layoffs, then he thinks in more drastic terms: 'Well, if IBM is having problems, everyone must be in bad shape.

More than 50 percent of America's jobless are at high school education level or below. They face the toughest market for reemployment, says Wayne Vroman, a labor economist with the Urban Institute.

That grim statistic is reflected in November's consumer confidence index. Published by the Conference Board, the index plunged to its lowest level in more than a decade. Fear of unemployment is the chief concern.

"For every person who's laid off, there are 20 more who fear that their jobs may be next," says Robert Reich, a professor of political economy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. "Nothing inhibits consumer purchases {some two-thirds of the country's economic activity} like that fear. It has a very depressive effect on the economy."

Mr. Reich calls massive layoffs "irrational" decisions for US companies that are trying to stay competitive, because job cuts jeopardize worker loyalty. "It makes sense for companies to hold onto their workers," he says. …