The number of employed IT pros in the past four quarters reached 3,901,000, the highest its been since the first quarter of 2009.
However, the unemployment rate for the fourth quarter rose to 5.4 percent, up from 5.1 percent in the third quarter, as the number of jobless IT pros rose by 10,000 to 221,000 during the final three months of the year. Though not a pleasant situation for those out of work, a rise in unemployment could be a harbinger of an improving economy, as discouraged individuals reenter the job market with hopes of finding work. Indeed, the IT workforce - those employed and the unemployed seeking jobs - rose to 4,122,000 in the fourth quarter, a record high.
A year ago, at the end of 2009, the IT unemployment rate stood at 5.2 percent, with a workforce of 3,989,000 that included 3,781,000 employed and 208,000 unemployed.
The numbers presented in our analysis are annualized.
The government does not have special occupation designations for information security professionals; they're mostly grouped within the eight IT job titles: computer and information systems managers, computer scientists and systems analysts, computer programmers, computer software engineers, computer support specialists, database administrators, network and computer systems administrators and network systems and data communications analysts. Those eight job descriptions are among well over 400 occupation titles the Bureau of Labor Statistics tracks.
Still, one of the forces driving IT employment is information security. "We consistently hear that security is a top hiring priority from IT departments around the country," says Tom Silver, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at the employment site Dice.com. "From cyber-SWAT teams to security analysts, companies are hiring, and the need to protect their customers and intellectual capital only continues to grow." (See Security Jobs on the Rise in 2011.)
Each month, the bureau conducts two surveys. The one we use to produce our analysis for this report, the household survey, has government survey-takers interviewing 60,000 residences. The bureau uses results from the household survey to report the nation's unemployment rate on the first Friday of each month, which stood at 9.4 percent in December.
Economists at the bureau and elsewhere consider the survey sample size too small to be statistically reliable for individual occupations, including IT as a group. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes employment and unemployment data on individual occupations quarterly, the bureau doesn't promote that fact; the government neither posts them on BLS.gov nor issues a press release touting the stats. They're available upon request, however.
To enhance reliability of our analysis, we aggregate a year's worth of data for each quarterly report. For example, to get the fourth quarter numbers reported here, we add together the published employment statistics from all four quarters of 2010 and then divide by four. This process, in effect, quadruples the sample size and smooths some quarter-to-quarter fluctuations in the data that may occur. In effect, it annualize the quarterly employment numbers.
- Upasana Gupta contributed to this story.