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Software employment grows 45% in 10 years, as angst in engineering grows

Patrick Thibodeau, Sharon Machlis | July 23, 2013
One unemployed electrical engineer, whose wife challenged President Obama on H-1Bs, is back at work.

While it's great to see software developers getting back to full employment, said Costa, data appears to show that "the tech labor market is still too loose to suggest it is lacking in tech workers," he said.

Concerning the growth in software developers, researchers generally agree that it reflects an economy that has become much more software focused. The debate now may be about whether such a shift is really a bad thing if other areas -- engineering in particular -- stagnates or falls.

Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at Brookings Institution, sees the rise of software and professional services in concert with a more software-focused economy. The decline in manufacturing represents the overseas and near-shore shift in manufacturing. "It does not have to do with decline of R&D/innovation in the U.S.," he said.

Source: IEEE-USA based on analysis of U.S. labor data.The 6.6% unemployment rate for all workers is lower than the national rate of 7.6%. The lower number only counts experienced people who were previously employed, and does not include people just out of school or returning to the workforce after an extended absence. Overall methodology is slightly different for annual and quarterly data.

Zoltan Acs, a professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University, argues that software development is innovation. Citing the app development work, "are these not innovations? I would be more upset if both trends (software development and electrical engineering) were down."

But Robert Atkinson, president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, sees the decline in electrical engineering as "a clear reflection of the U.S. losing the race for global innovation advantage in manufacturing."

In a foundation report, " Worse than the Great Depression," the United States "showed its first decline since the data were collected in 1948. And certainly some of this was related to output that had an electrical engineering component," said Atkinson.


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