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A mixed bag for IT jobs in July

US economy adds jobs, unemployment micro-ticks down

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The US economy added more jobs than economists had projected in July and the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its latest jobs report that it had also revised the number of net new people added to the workforce in May and June. This number was slightly higher than originally reported, the bureau said.

The BLS, which is part of the Department of Labor, tracks the number of workers by industry in the US economy (which is known as the establishment data) and also does a poll of households to see who is working, looking, or sitting (known as the household data) to calculate the unemployment rate. The employment data is imprecise (for no good reason in the era of Big Data) and does not track employment by job type (which would be as useful and maybe or more so than tracking it by industry, as the BLS has done for decades).

According to the July 2011 jobs report (PDF), employers in the private sector added 154,000 jobs in July, with 117,000 net new jobs across the public and private sector. (These numbers do not include farm workers, who have their own rhythms as harvests come and go.) The BLS also said that non-farm jobs were up by 53,000 in May (instead of the 25,000 previously reported) and by 46,000 in June (up from 18,000 reported a month ago). So for the three months, that is 173,000 net new jobs, despite deep cuts in local and state governments. (In July, 23,000 furloughed workers in Minnesota, which was shut down over a budget impasse, held the numbers down.)

That job creation level is still anemic, however. Economists say that the US needs to add about 200,000 jobs per month just to keep up with population growth. With a 9.1 per cent unemployment rate and 13.9 million workers looking for jobs and not finding them, at this rate it would take nearly 18 years to find all of these people jobs if the population wasn't growing at all. Workers are leaving the labor pool, which is the real reason the unemployment rate ticked down by one-tenth of a per cent in July. The civilian labor force participation rate is down to 63.9 per cent of potential workers, the lowest it has been since the end of the Reagan recession in 1983.

The healthcare industry in the United States added 31,000 workers in July, and retailers added 26,000 people to the payrolls, BLS figures show. Manufacturers added 24,000 jobs and the mining industry added another 9,000. Companies engaged in professional and technical services added 18,000 people, while governments slashed 37,000 workers.

It would be great if the BLS tracked jobs by type, because then we could get a direct sense of how IT careers are faring compared to other options as well as seeing how various industries are doing. In the meantime, the best we can do to get a gauge on how the IT industry is doing in terms of employment is look at various sub-sectors that have obvious IT focuses and count the number of workers as they go up and down month to month.

The professional and business services sector is one of the dominant parts of the US economy with 17.3 million employees: the IT sub-segments continue to do well with 11,200 workers added in July, to 1.52 million total employees. Management and technical consulting services firms – which usually have some IT aspect to what they do – added 7,900 workers last month, adding to the 1 million-plus worker pool.

The BLS puts book, film, and other kinds of publishing as well as broadcasting, telecommunications, and data processing services into what it calls the information sector, which collectively give paychecks to just under 2.7 million workers. Within this sector, the data-processing and hosting sector continued to shed jobs as a group, with 2,200 workers getting pink slips, leaving a worker base of 238,500 employees. Telecommunications companies cut 3,200 employees, leaving a base of 862,800 people still getting paychecks. It is interesting to conjecture if the acquisitions of several big hosting companies by big telcos and cable operators in recent months are causing these layoffs as promised "synergies" are realized.

Computer and electronic products manufacturers added 1,100 jobs in July, barely moving the pool of 1.13 million workers in the sector. Within this sub-sector of the manufacturing industry, computer and peripheral equipment makers have 171,900 workers, up 200 from June. Communication equipment makers shed 1,700 workers, to total 117,300 employees, and semiconductor and electronic component makers added 3,000 workers, to 388,400 workers in July. ®

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