Today’s the day that the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports employment numbers for the preceding month. And despite more bullish forecasts from numerous economists of jobs in the 150,000-180,000 range for March, 2013, it looks like ADP’s earlier data, which suggested something under 100,000 were correct this time. The official number for March is 88,000 with overall unemployment still at 7.6 percent. The interesting remark in this most recent report reads: “Employment grew in professional and business services and in health care but declined in retail trade.” (For links to the report and tables see the Note at the end of this blog post, please.)
A quick dive into the numbers for the Information category in Table A-14 shows that unemployment in one of IT’s home sectors continues trending downward: whereas total unemployment in March 2012 for this sector stood at 8 percent (232,000 unemployed total), for March 2013 that rate had declined to 5.2 percent (145,000 unemployed total). But in another core area for IT professionals (mostly those working in consulting or services companies) — namely, Professional and Business services — unemployment still remains above the national average. It was 9.7 percent in March 2012 (1.5 million unemployed total), and 8.9 percent in March 2013 (just under 1.4 million unemployed total). And finally, the self-employed niche shows a slight uptick, up from 5.5 percent (543,000 unemployed total) in March 2012, versus 5.6 percent (537,000 unemployed total, a number that reflects some departures of workers from this sector) in March 2013.
What does this all tell us about the state of employment in the USA, and coming prospects for IT workers? First and foremost, it maintains the ongoing observation that our economy is growing, but not only slowly overall, but also by fits and starts. Last month’s big numbers of 236,000 buoyed enthusiasm — and the markets — with a perception that recovery might be accelerating; this month’s much smaller numbers (just under 38 percent of last month’s) show that the recovery is not on a steady trajectory. I’m sure the markets will react negatively to this understanding. It may also dampen some of the optimism that led forecasters to predict accelerating growth in IT jobs for the second half of 2013 as well. One thing’s for sure: it still remains a guessing game to decide when the economy has “gotten better,” and when employment has returned to a normal footing. In the meantime my constant mantra for IT workers remains “Be calm. Stay put. Wait it out.”
[Important note: For the current month — March, 2013, in this case — the US BLS always uses the same link for its most recent Employment Situation Summary. Until the next report is released in early May, this link remains valid. After that you must turn to their archives to find the report for March, 2013, instead.]