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Downturn Be Damned, Info Tech Jobs Surged Ahead Last Quarter

U.S. IT jobs are up 12% from a year ago, though concerns about a slowdown loom over the upbeat government data.

U.S. information technology jobs have been growing at a steady pace for more than a year, and that continued in the first three months of this year, the latest quarterly report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows.

U.S. IT employment shot up more than 12% compared with one year ago, with companies adding about 376,000 IT jobs to hit 3.8 million employed. IT unemployment rose slightly to 2.6%, as the IT labor pool surged as well.

Two big surprises stand out from an analysis of the report. One, IT job growth continued, despite a growing belief that the U.S. economy's already in a recession. Second, IT unemployment rose despite the job growth -- hitting 2.6%, up from 2.1% a year ago -- as the U.S. IT labor pool grew to meet the rising demand. More than 380,000 people have joined the pool of available IT workers -- employed and unemployed -- in the past year.

These numbers are based on a quarterly report based on BLS surveys of U.S. households that breaks down employment by job categories. All the numbers cited above are averages of the past four quarters. Looking only at the most recent quarter's data, however, there's also no sign of slowdown. That shows U.S. IT employment edging past 4 million jobs for the first time. In the IT boom of 2000 and 2001, it never passed 3.5 million.

In the economy overall, the unemployment rate rose from 4.8% to 5.1% in March, and nonfarm jobs fell 232,000 in the first quarter, including a drop of 80,000 in March, the BLS reports. Construction, manufacturing, and employment services have fallen, while health care, food services, and mining added jobs, according to the BLS.

Where's the U.S. IT job growth coming from? By far the largest growth category has been computer support specialists, which leaped 41% the past year, adding 127,000 jobs. Next is network and data communication analysts (68,000 new jobs, 19% growth), computer scientists and system analysts (65,000 new jobs, 8% growth), and network/system administrators (51,000 new jobs, 31% growth). The economy also added 51,000 IT management jobs, growing 11%.

IT employment has been slowly clawing back from its low point in 2002, when employment fell below 3.3 million. This marks the fifth straight quarter that IT jobs have grown, according to the BLS surveys. IT jobs make up 7.4% of management, professional, and related occupations.

U.S. IT pros still have cause for concern. The financial services industry is one of the largest IT employers, and job losses from that sector could take a toll in the coming quarters. It's also notable that the largest job growth category -- computer support specialist -- also is among the lowest paid, with salaries around $50,000 compared with, for example, an ERP specialist's typical pay of about $90,000, according to InformationWeek's National Salary Survey.

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