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Study: 400,000 IT jobs lost since 2001

Nearly half of those jobs disappeared after the recession's official end, with San Francisco and Boston being hit the hardest.

The information technology industry lost 403,300 jobs from the start of the recession in March 2001 to April 2004, with nearly half of those jobs disappearing after the recession's official end, according to a new study.

The report said 200,300 IT jobs were lost after November 2001 and found steep job losses in the San Francisco, Boston and San Jose, Calif., regions. The study, which was released Tuesday, was written by researchers at the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago for union group WashTech.

Officials from the center and WashTech argued that the job losses resulted from several factors, including the shift of work to lower-cost nations and the use of H-1B visas, which can be used to import computer programmers and other skilled workers.

Nik Theodore, a co-author of the study, said U.S. technology workers are experiencing something worse than a jobless recovery.

"For America's IT workforce, this has been a job-loss recovery," he said.

In recent weeks, conflicting information has emerged about the job scene for tech professionals. Unemployment in the field has dropped, as has the total number of jobs--suggesting discouraged workers may have dropped out of the field.

A survey by a staffing firm found gradually increasing confidence among IT workers in the job market. But a recent study by the Information Technology Association of America trade group found just a "slight" recovery for the IT job market in 2004.

That report concluded that the number of U.S. IT workers rose 2 percent, to 10.5 million, in the first quarter of this year, but demand for IT workers is dropping.

ITAA's report included workers in the internal IT departments of many types of corporations, while the new study for WashTech is limited to companies in the technology industry, such as Internet service providers and software publishers.

WashTech's study considered how IT industry employment has fared in a number of major tech regions and concluded that the San Francisco Bay Area has taken the largest hit in percentage terms. IT industry employment in the San Francisco region dropped 49 percent between March 2001 and April 2004 to 28,000. During the same period, IT employment in the Boston region fell 34 percent to 46,900, and industry employment in the San Jose area declined 33 percent to 61,900.

In the Dallas region, the IT industry shed 30 percent of its jobs to 39,300, and the Chicago metropolitan area lost 26 percent of its IT industry jobs to 47,000. In the Washington state region that includes Seattle, IT industry employment slipped 11 percent to 52,800.

The study said these numbers may not reflect all IT job losses, because data for certain sectors of the IT industry aren't available for several regions. For example, employment data for the software publishing industry is not available for the Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco regions, according to the study.

Theodore said that partly because of the rise of so-called offshoring--in which services work is sent abroad--IT industry employment is likely to drop further. "All indications are that job losses will continue," he said.

Defenders of offshoring say it ultimately benefits the U.S. economy and U.S. workers, and that protectionist measures would result in lower economic growth and higher unemployment.

Critics respond that offshoring costs U.S. workers jobs and

Courtney said one of the first steps to improve the job situation for technology workers is to reform the H-1B and L-1 visa programs. L-1 visas allow companies to temporarily bring in employees from other countries for managerial or executive work, or for work that entails specialized knowledge.

"It's almost economically impossible to argue that there are not enough skilled, high-tech workers domestically," Courtney said.