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5/7/2004
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IT Jobs Decline Slightly In April

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says computer systems design and related services lost 3,900 jobs last month, falling to just under 1.099 million.

Non-farm employment rose 288,000 in April, but one category of IT jobs wasn't part of that growth, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. The category known as computer systems design and related services lost 3,900 jobs last month, falling to just under 1.099 million workers. The computer systems design category includes IT consultancies and separate IT subsidiaries of large companies.

Computer systems design is a subcategory within the professional and business services sector, and was the only subcategory within that sector to experience job losses. Overall, professional services--a category that includes jobs such as management, legal, accounting, architecture, engineering, and non-IT technical services--represented 42% of the total employment gains last month. That suggests employers are reluctant to hire full-time workers until they're sure the economic expansion will be sustained, says economist Irv Leveson of ForecastCenter.com.

Experts are puzzled as to why computer design firms haven't shown any gains. One possible reason why employment at IT consultancies remains flat: Companies often hire these firms to deploy large, enterprise systems and many businesses aren't tackling such projects these days. Another possible explanation: CIOs at some companies are reining in all types of IT spending, including hiring outsourcers.

The employment report is based on a survey of employers and doesn't break out specific job categories. Thus, IT pros would be grouped with other types of jobs in the industries that employ them: retail, financial services, and so on.

A separate report based on a survey of American households the government issued Friday showed the overall unemployment rate at 5.6% in April, down one tenth of a percentage point from March. Unemployment has hovered in the 5.6% to 5.7% range since December. The government doesn't report separate IT unemployment numbers, though an InformationWeek analysis of available government data shows that unemployment among business technologists averaged 5.5% for the 12 months ended in March.

Leveson says the overall employment picture is improving, but big problems remain. Some 116,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force last month. "The labor force participation rate has been stuck at recession levels at some time," he says. "That tells us we're having trouble keeping up with new [economic] growth."

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