Data Suggests The U.S. Programmer Job Decline Has Leveled Off

But there's no sign of growth in the profession.
Computer programming jobs aren't on a steep decline in the United States anymore, though it's hardly news that will put coders at ease.

No IT occupation has been hit as hard as computer programming since the dot-com bust, struck by factors from offshoring to the rise of off-the-shelf applications. U.S. programmer employment plummeted nearly a quarter from 2000 to 2003 (see chart below).

Chart: Programmer's Dilemma -- No job growth, but mass cuts have stopped.

The market has stabilized, based on third-quarter labor stats for the past four years. Programmers represent 16% of all IT workers, and the number of people employed in the job in the United States has remained about the same each year since 2003, with a slight jump in 2004.

Still, the Labor Department forecasts negligible growth. The third-quarter unemployment rate for programmers is 2.2%, the same as the overall IT jobless rate, but largely because so many people left the field--50,000 fewer people, employed or not, call themselves programmers compared with 2004. Programmer unemployment hovered near 7% four years ago, when nearly 41,000 who classified themselves as programmers were out of work.

Total IT employment in the third quarter stood at 3.47 million, up 1% from a year earlier, while the IT workforce--employed and unemployed--stayed level at 3.55 million.

As the third-largest U.S. IT job category, programmers are still in demand to update legacy systems, customize apps, and, perhaps most important, write new apps for software vendors. The bleeding has stopped for the profession. But its growth prospects haven't improved.