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Could It Be? Data Shows U.S. Info Tech Jobs Grew 8% In 2007

That's more than twice the growth rate in 2005, the next-best year this decade.

The U.S. information-technology job market grew at a blistering pace in 2007, shooting up 8% and adding nearly 300,000 jobs, according to year-end data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Yet with relatively modest wage growth and looming layoffs in IT-heavy sectors such as banking, the job market sure doesn't feel as healthy as that rosy 8% figure suggests.

Estimated employment in IT passed 3.76 million in 2007, based on the average of the BLS' household surveys throughout the year. In 2006, employment was 3.46 million, for a gain of 292,000 jobs. The biggest growth came in the computer scientist and system analyst category, growing 15% to add 110,000 jobs. Next came IT management, growing 17% with 66,000 new jobs. The programmer segment was the only one to drop, falling 7% with the loss of 37,000 jobs. With more than a half million jobs, however, programmers remain the third largest source of IT employment.

The BLS employment estimates are based on surveys of 60,000 households. The annual total is an average of surveys taken throughout the year. Before 2007, the fastest year-over-year job growth this decade was 3.6% in 2005, when the IT job market clawed back from a three-year downturn.

One unusual point in the data is that IT unemployment is 2.1% -- equal to the management/professional class overall and almost identical to the 2.2% of last year, despite the reported torrid growth of IT jobs. Where did all those new IT workers come from? There could be IT pros coming back into the field after being driven from the profession by job cuts and slow growth of recent years, or perhaps people moving into IT from other technical or business fields.

While the IT job market's certainly been good of late, there's reason to be cautious about data showing this big a rise, said Ron Hira, public policy professor at Rochester Institute of Technology and a leading researcher of tech-related employment. One is the steady unemployment rate, and another is the only moderate growth in IT salaries amid rising demand, Hira said.

Hira notes that a separate BLS survey of employers, called the establishment survey, estimates that all professional and technical service jobs grew 322,000 last year. That survey doesn't capture some workers, like the self-employed, but it gives reason to take "with a grain of salt" the notion that IT jobs alone increased 292,000, he said.

"We need a constellation of data to get a feel for what is happening in the labor market," Hira said.

Regardless the exact numbers, 2007 was clearly a good year for IT job creation overall. But there's reason for concern about tech employment heading into 2008. Hira said IT employment has benefited -- along with technical and engineering broadly -- from increased defense spending, which is likely to continue. But the financial services industry, one of the biggest IT employers and buyers, faces layoffs and possible cuts in tech spending.

"That vertical is going to cause some problems, some blowback on IT jobs," Hira warns.

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