IT Employment, Workforce Reach Record Highs

The sharp increase in overall unemployment plaguing much of the U.S. economy has yet to be felt by the IT professional.

The number of people in the IT workforce and employed as IT professionals continues to grow despite the worsening economy. And, though down a bit, IT unemployment hovers near historic lows.

And, government data suggest that strong employment growth among IT services firms is helping shelter the business-technology profession from the increasing joblessness besetting other occupations.

The number of people who consider themselves IT professionals in the United States rose to a record 4,106,000 in the third quarter of 2008, according to a CIO Insight analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Friday. In addition, the number of employed IT pros also set a record, at 4,010,000.

However, the IT unemployment rate–as calculated by CIO Insight–inched up one-tenth of a percentage point to 2.4 percent in the third quarter, the highest level since first quarter 2006, when the business-tech jobless rate stood at 2.5 percent. The number of unemployed IT managers and staffers rose by 3,000 last quarter to 97,000, its highest level since fourth quarter 2005, when 103,000 IT pros were out of work.

Still, IT joblessness remains near record lows and way below overall unemployment rate. Indeed, September’s unemployment rate for all occupations stood at a five-year high of 6.1 percent, unchanged from August. (Third-quarter 2008 overall joblessness averaged 6 percent.) IT unemployment peaked at 5.6 percent in mid-2003 in the wake of the dot-com bust and the recession that followed. Then, the gap between IT and overall unemployment was relatively narrow, about one-half a percentage point. Last quarter, that chasm was 3.6 percentage point difference.

No doubt, many IT professionals have become victims of corporate layoffs sweeping the country. But, according to our analysis, the number of IT pros added to the payrolls of IT services firms this past year rose by some 36,000. IT job growth among all businesses in the past 12 months rose by 308,000. Thus, our analysis suggests, IT services firms created nearly 12 percent of those new IT jobs.

Some of those hired were likely foreign nationals here on H-1B visas, who the program’s critics contend take jobs away from citizens and fulltime permanent residents. In its monthly survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics asks about all people age 16 and over residing within each household, regardless of their legal status, even those living in the United States illegally.

The monthly survey of some 60,000 households is used by BLS to determine the unemployment rate. But the BLS only releases only quarterly data on individual occupations, including the eight IT professions we analyze: computer and information systems managers, computer scientists/analysts, computer programmers, computer software engineers, computer support specialists, database administrators, network/computer systems administrators and network systems/data communications analysts.

In conducting our analysis, because each individual occupation is too small to be statistically reliable, we aggregate four quarters worth data, a practice economists and statisticians tell us make the numbers more reliable. Thus, the third quarter figures we report reflect an aggregation of BLS numbers for the last quarter of 2007 and the first three quarters of this year. All household survey numbers are seasonally adjusted.

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