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Info Tech Unemployment Tops 5%

It's the worst mark in five years, but the first-quarter IT job loss is smaller than those in both the third and fourth quarters of last year.

U.S. IT employment dropped about 1.3% in the first quarter of this year, shedding almost 49,000 jobs and driving the IT unemployment rate to 5.2%, its worst point since 2004, a report released this week revealed.

U.S. companies have cut about 380,000 IT jobs in the past nine months, a sudden drop after IT employment had held stable in the first half of 2008 as the recession began. IT employment is down 7% from its level of one year ago. The data is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly household surveys.

However, the first-quarter IT job loss is smaller than those in both the third and fourth quarters of last year. The fourth quarter last year saw a stunning 6% cut in tech employment, compared with this quarter's 1.3% drop. The decline in IT jobs this quarter was slightly less than that for management and professional jobs overall, which fell by 1.5% in the first three months of the year.

Overall professional and managerial unemployment hit 4.1%, twice what it had been before the recession. The IT unemployment rate rose higher than the broader professional ranks in part because a lot of people joined the tech workforce; the size of the IT workforce -- employed and unemployed people looking for work -- rose almost 1%. People often move in and out of the IT workforce, and it's possible people see tech prospects as relatively more promising in this uncertain economy.

The BLS monthly surveys include eight IT job categories among its 30-page report covering the range of jobs in the economy. The three largest employment categories all declined in employment -- software engineers (-5%), computer scientists and system analysts (-6%), and programmers (-9%). IT manager jobs grew 7%. Those four categories account for 70% of IT jobs.

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