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US job cuts slow in April

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In what is probably the first good news on the jobs front that the US economy has seen since last spring, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported its unemployment figures for April.

Although the number out of work rose, the job cuts were lower than expected, perhaps indicating that the rate of the collapse in the economy has slowed.

The news is still not great, of course, with another 539,000 people losing their jobs, and the overall unemployment rate increasing from 8.5 per cent in March to 8.9 per cent for April. But this was less than the 620,000 job losses predicted by some economists.

As often is the case, the BLS has monkeyed around with past numbers, boosting the job losses from March to 699,000 from the originally reported 663,000. Perversely, the February numbers were revised down to 651,000 from 681,000, almost wiping out the increase in job cuts. Since the recession began in December 2007, 5.7 million people are reported to have lost their jobs.*

Because the monthly BLS report tracks jobs and cuts by industry - well, it does surveys and creates a model and then does some "seasonal adjustment" magic to these numbers - you can sort of get a sense of conditions in the IT vendor community by looking at sections of the report, which you can read in full here.

Ignoring seasonal adjustments (which seems wise considering the declining and unstable nature of the economy in the past several months), computer and peripheral equipment makers shed 3,000 jobs, leaving 170,200 total employees still on the payrolls. Communications equipment makers added 400 jobs (to 128,400), but semiconductor and electronic component makers shed 7,700 jobs (leaving 388,800). Telecommunications companies laid off 9,800 employees in April (cutting the national payroll in this category to 986,300), and companies engaged in data processing, hosting, and related services shed 500 jobs to 254,800. Computer systems design and related services, a big portion of the IT vendor economy, accounted for only 700 job losses, with 1.45 million people still engaged in this activity.

All in all, it could have been worse. And in fact, it has been. We'll see what May and June bring. Perhaps some revisions that make April look better or worse than the first pass done this morning. ®

* In a modern computerized age, it is a wonder, considering all of the forms that employers have to file to be in business and pay their employees, that we do not have a precise number culled from payroll processors and home-grown payroll systems. This number would be precise and accurate the first time, and moreover, would be an accurate count of the number of people employed, what industries they are in, and what their jobs are in fairly precise categories.

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