Aetna, Cooper Tire, Western Digital announce 4,900 layoffs

A growing number of companies are sending workers a grim holiday message: Head for the unemployment line.

Health care provider Aetnaaet, Cooper Tire & Rubber ctb and Western Digital wdc, which makes computer hard drives, said Wednesday they would cut a combined 4,900 jobs. And Eastman Chemical emnsaid it would cut an unspecified number as it tries to slash costs by $100 million in 2009.

The announcements came a day before the government was expected to report that jobless claims remain near their highest point in 26 years.

The downturn has spread far beyond the housing and banking businesses where it began, battering workers in nearly every sector of the economy. "Things are changing so rapidly, and deteriorating so rapidly, that firms don't have a choice," said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist of IHS Global Insight. Falling sales are squeezing companies' cash just as tighter credit makes it harder for them to borrow to fund operations, Behravesh said. The combination means this time, some companies can't afford to wait until after the holidays to cut jobs.

Elizabeth Teschler, 22, was told Monday that she and the other part-timer at the five-person executive-search firm where she'd worked for four months would be laid off. It was the second job loss in a year for Teschler, who graduated from Emerson College last December and has moved in with her family near Los Angeles to save money.

Unsure of how she'll pay the $600 in student loans, credit card and car insurance bills each month, Teschler said she's thinking of going back to school.

"I don't know how I would pay for that, but at least it would postpone my student loans and be a way to acquire affordable health insurance," she said.

Many people with jobs are so fearful about their employment security that families are reducing spending, giving retailers one of the worst holiday shopping seasons in decades.

Electronics retailer Best Buy bby said this week that it would offer buyouts to all 4,000 of its headquarters employees.

"We believe that the environment for consumer spending is likely to get worse before it gets better," CEO Brad Anderson said.