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Tech employment slips in January

After months of growth, the tech services field drops jobs, as does computer and electronics manufacturing.

The new year did not get off to a good start in terms of tech employment, according to a report Friday from the U.S. Department of Labor.

After growing from April to December, the number of payroll jobs in the field of computer systems design and related services slipped by 300 in January, to 1.18 million, according to the report. And the manufacturing side of the computer industry continued to drop positions. The number of jobs in computer and electronic products manufacturing edged down by 200 in January, to 1.33 million.

The slight declines come amid other signals that a recovery in the tech industry could be leaving some U.S. workers behind. A recent report on the found job losses last year in various technology sectors. The push to send programming work to lower-wage nations such as India continues to threaten American techies. And critics also claim a newly expanded H-1B visa program will hurt domestic technology professionals by introducing more competition from foreign workers.

Defenders of the visa program argue that foreign guest workers are important to U.S. employers--and therefore the U.S. economy.

Overall in January, the U.S. economy produced fewer than expected new jobs. Payroll jobs rose by 146,000 to 132.6 million, the Labor Department said. In the past, roughly 150,000 new payroll jobs per month have been considered necessary to keep up with the growth of the labor force in the United States. In January, though, the labor force shrunk by 224,000. The number of people not looking for work because they believed no jobs were available rose to 515,000 in January, from 442,000 in December.

The nation's unemployment rate slipped from 5.4 percent in December to 5.2 percent in January.

Employment held steady in another technology-related services category. Payroll jobs in management and technical consulting services remained at 789,700 in January.

Employment in computer and electronic products manufacturing has been falling since August. Jobs in the industry are up 5,900 from a year ago, but down 547,000 from January 2001.