Employment figures looking up even as financial markets move down
Normally, I post my first blog of the month to address the latest report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, which normally appears on the first Friday of each month. Last Friday, however, I was out of town on business when those numbers posted, so I had to "pre-write" that blog post, and push the employment discussion out by one week. But looking at the Oct. 3 Employment Situation Summary, I see all kinds of interesting signs of job growth and recovery, and even some indications that things are finally picking up a bit for those who toil in the IT patch for a living.
The Overview: Good for September, Bumps for July and August
After an apparently disappointing showing in August, the numbers for September fall right in line with the average established for the year, and with most of the preceding months of 2014. Unemployment dropped to 5.9 percent, which is getting into the desirable range where most economists are willing to start talking about "full employment" (though most of them get increasingly more comfortable about this phrase as that number approaches or dips below the 5.0 mark). "Total nonfarm payroll employment" grew by 248,000 jobs for September, which is still around 50,000 less than what economists believe is necessary to seriously whittle away at the numbers of long-term unemployed workers.
But it's not unhealthy either, and a definite improvement over the August numbers. These were bumped by 38,000 from the initial report of 142,000 in the previous BLS report on September 5, and the July numbers got a 31,000 boost as well, from the previous report of 212,000 (which brings them up to 243,000, also more in line with this year's running average of around 240,000 jobs per month (and well above the running average over the past 55 months, which has run around 187,000 jobs per month).
What's Up in IT?
Unemployment in IT certainly is stated at 4.4% in the latest report, and is the lowest number I've seen for some time, in addition to falling below most traditional "full employment" levels. This is both reassuring and troubling because that level of employment would normally signal a trend toward wage growth in IT because it usually means that demand for IT workers exceeds the supply. But wage growth across the economy, including IT, remains stuck in the "slim to none" category, and often means that IT pros must change jobs, and tout themselves into high-demand positions, because they can point to direct experience, recent training or education, or directly at valuable skills and knowledge relevant to their prospective job roles.
The overall size of the IT market is also growing at a snail's pace. The total number of IT workers in September 2013 stood at about 2.86 million (which I calculated by dividing the number of unemployed in the Information sector by the corresponding unemployment rate at that time); one year later, that total number is 2.91 million (ditto). That means the sector has added only 50,000 jobs in the past year, for an overall job growth rate of 1.75 percent or thereabouts. That's not exactly what I would call either impressive or steep, and it reflects the ongoing attitude of conservatism and perhaps even trepidation when it comes to adding IT jobs at most businesses and organizations nowadays.
The bottom line is that things are improving, and keep getting better, but change is proceeding at glacial rates. I worry about the fates and futures of those who've been working in IT for less than 5 or 6 years, because it's still looking like opportunities for growth and promotion without changing employers are still pretty dismal. Those with more experience in the workforce have already learned how to deal with this, and how to gracefully move from one job to the next. But for those contemplating and preparing for the first such jump, the prospects and the effort involved can be scary. Let's just hope that famous "rising tide that lifts all boats" comes along soon enough to help lift such folks onto the next rung of their career ladders!