U.S. Unemployment Rate Drops a Bit, IT Does OK
December 7, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
The Department of Labor Statistics put out is monthly report on the jobs situation in the United States last Friday morning, and the good news is that the economy shed only 11,000 jobs, compelling the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to drop by two-tenths of a percent, to a flat 10 percent. Economists had been projecting somewhere around 125,000 jobs to be chopped, so this was some much-needed good news on the economic front.
Generally speaking, the BLS, which is the part of the Department of Labor tasked with counting everything having to do with the working person (except the number of people with specific types of jobs as opposed to people working in specific industries regardless of their job function), said that the information, construction, and manufacturing industries continued to shed jobs, but thanks to the holiday spending spree, temp services are getting a boost and the healthcare industry just keeps a-growing as if there was no Great Recession at all.
The unemployment rate was hovering around 5 percent, which is about as close to full employment as any capitalist economy can get, until April 2008. Technically speaking, the recession started in December 2007, when 7.5 million people were out of work, representing an annually adjusted unemployment rate of 4.9 percent. As of the end of November, there were 15.4 million people in the States who could not find work, which was down from the 15.7 million reported at the end of October. (This count of the unemployed does not count farm workers, who really never stop working if you think about it, or seasonal workers who come and go with harvests; nor does it count the many millions of people–perhaps tens of millions–who have stopped looking for work out of frustration.)
At the peak of the Great Recession early this year (which was in January), employers shed 741,000 jobs, and for many months before and after that, many hundreds of thousands of jobs were eliminated. A cut of only 11,000 jobs seems like a miracle by comparison. Back in August, I looked at the chart in the monthly BLS report, which you can see here, and said–and I quote from my story at The Register here–“if the U.S. economy continues to behave as it has since February, then in November there should be few or no job losses and the economy should start adding jobs in December or January.” Man, I sure hope that this was prophetic. But, I have my doubts (just like my cousin Thomas, who visited from Wyoming this week to see how his city mouse cousin gets on in the world). “Then again,” I said in The Reg bit last summer, “the economy shed jobs every month through early 2008, and could continue to shed jobs through early 2010 as businesses adjust and readjust to shifting conditions. That would be my guess, but not my hope.”
Let’s hope for the former and not the latter. Hope is cheap. The mortgage ain’t.
I have been watching the monthly BLS reports like a hawk for some insight into the IT employment sector, and because the BLS doesn’t track jobs by title, you can only get a second-order derivative of what the IT jobs losses are per month. (Yes, I am irritated by this. If we tracked jobs by type, we could figure out where a good place to look for work is. Wouldn’t it be nice to know, for instance, that programming jobs were holding, even in the downturn, while project managers were having a tough time? I am not saying that is the case, but you could find this out.)
Among the manufacturers that the BLS keeps track of each month, one group is the computer and electronics makers, who shed 1,200 jobs in November, leaving just over 1.1 million people employed at their companies. Within this group, communications equipment makers cut 200 jobs (to 125,000 flat), computer and peripheral equipment makers actually added 300 jobs (to 159,200), and semiconductor and electronic components makers added 600 jobs (to 362,800).
By the way, this is the raw data, not the adjusted data. A lot more jobs were actually cut than 11,000 in the entire U.S. economy, but many of these are deemed seasonal by the BLS. I think this is interesting, but you need to look at the raw and the cooked data at the same time.
Within the information industry category used by the BLS–which includes publishing, movies, music, broadcasting, telecom, and data processing and hosting–a total of 6,000 jobs were lost. Telecommunications companies cut 6,900 jobs in November, and data processing and hosting firms cut another 600 jobs.
In the professional and business services industry, which has an impressive 16.9 million workers as of the end of last month, the computer systems design and related services business had just over 1.48 million workers, up 300 from the prior month. Those engaged in management and technical consulting services added 9,400 jobs. I leave it to you to reckon if this latter bit is a good thing or not.