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US employers slash 85,000 jobs in December

IT, healthcare, and temps buck the trend

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Hopes that US job losses would shrink to almost four figure levels in December were dashed today when the US Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed that 85,000 employees were shed last month.

While the number of jobs shed by employers in the United States was nearly an order of magnitude lower in December 2009 that it was twelve months earlier, the 85,000 job cuts announced by the BLS for the final month of last year was nearly an order of magnitude larger than expected and has put a damper on hopes for an early and strong economic recovery in the States.

According to the BLS, the part of the Department of Labor that compiles statistics relating to jobs and employment, seasonally adjusted payrolls for non-farm workers dropped by 85,000 in December, with the expectation prior to the announcement being that around 10,000 jobs would be shed.

This time last year, the economic meltdown was in full swing and the BLS was reporting that employers in the States cut a staggering 760,000 jobs in December 2008. The bureau said that it had revised its figures for October 2009, saying that the US economy shed 127,000 jobs then (not the 111,000 originally reported), and also said that in November 2009, employers actually added 4,000 workers instead of giving the sack to 11,000.

According to the BLS, the number of unemployed people stayed constant in December, at 15.3 million, and the unemployment rate held at 10 per cent. In December 2007, when the recession in the United States officially got underway, the unemployment rate was 5 per cent and since then, 7.7 million net jobs have been removed from the economy; 4.2 million of those were cut in 2009.

The job losses in December 2009 were heavily concentrated in the construction industry, with 53,000 job cuts, with another 27,000 among manufacturers and 18,000 from wholesale traders. Temporary help services added 47,000 jobs and healthcare providers added 22,000 jobs, almost balancing these cuts. But all the other industries tracked by the BLS had cuts here and there, adding up to the 85,000 lost jobs. (You can see the full BLS jobs report for last month here.)

The BLS does not track jobs by title, but rather by industry, which means we cannot use the data to get a good idea of how IT jobs are holding up (or not). But we can get a peripheral view of some IT-related jobs through the industry breakdown.

Computer and electronics makers added a mere 600 net new jobs in December, to just over 1.11 million, but the IT-related manufacturers in this industry category did better than this. Computer and peripheral equipment manufacturers, who employed 159,000 people as December ended, added 400 jobs, while communications equipment makers added 600 jobs (to 124,800) and semiconductor and electronic components bakers added 1,000 jobs (to 364,400). These are raw, not seasonally adjusted figures, by the way.

The so-called information industry, which includes publishing, movie making, broadcasting, the specific data processing, hosting, and related services, added 700 jobs, boosting the aggregate employee roles to 254,600. Telecommunications providers, also in the information industry according to the BLS carve-up of the US economy, lost 700 jobs, to 968,300 workers.

Within the professional and business services sector, which has nearly 17 million employees overall, those companies engaged in computer systems design and related services adding 3,600 jobs in December 2009, bringing the workforce in this area up to 1,486,400 by the reckoning of the BLS. This sector of the US economy has added 11,300 net jobs since December 2008. Management and technical consulting services, which can be loosely affiliated with IT projects, accounted for 1,044,300 jobs in December 2009, up 2,800 jobs since November and up 14,300 since December 2008. ®

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