IT jobs made modest gains in February

With only 5,400 new jobs added in February, attention now turns to the upcoming H-1B lottery and its effect on STEM hiring

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The IT job market in the United States is still on its way up -- though not quite soaring.

With only 5,400 new jobs added in February, according to statistics assembled by Janco Associates, the IT market is cooling off somewhat from the booming gains seen in January and most of 2014. The picture may become further complicated when the H-1B visa lottery takes place in April, amid strong pressure to raise the worker visa caps.

In January, 14,400 IT jobs were added -- a figure more or less in line with the job growth seen through most of last year. Some of last month's softness may be seasonal, as job growth last February and March was also weak compared to stronger gains seen the rest of 2014. But the trend for IT hiring unquestionably remains up.

IT jobs in February 2015 Janco Associates

February 2015 IT jobs rose only modestly compared to previous months. The November 2014 surge is based on newly revised Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

Trending upward, though not explosively

Last year's highs also benefited from revised Bureau of Labor Statistics. Previously, it was stated that 12,700 jobs were added in November 2014, but according to new tallies, 37,900 were actually added -- possibly due to seasonal conditions. As a result, 129,800 IT jobs have been added in the past 12 months, almost double the yield of the previous 12-month period (75,500).

Salaries are also up, Janco noted. The average IT worker in large and midsize enterprises got a 2.4 percent bump in pay for 2015, with middle managers in midsize enterprises seeing the heftiest bump -- almost 4 percent compared to last year. IT pay also remains far ahead of the average weekly earnings for American workers -- $81,583 for 2015, compared to $44,584.

For the U.S. economy as a whole, unemployment dropped more than a full percentage point across the last 12 months, and now stands at 5.5 percent. The labor force participation rate, though, remains at its lowest level in decades. Even as IT workers earn more and their pay rates are expected to rise, the size of the increase isn't significantly better than the middling growth in wages (2.6 percent) seen by U.S. workers overall.

A debated H-1B boost on the horizon

One event on the horizon could change the employment picture for tech workers: The H-1B visa lottery is scheduled to take place on April 1., a nonprofit founded by several key Silicon Valley bigwigs, has lobbied for immigration reform to expand the visa pool from its current limit of 65,000.

Supporters claim a higher cap would boost job creation as a whole and make it easier for companies to fill skilled positions. (Tech companies have enacted various end runs around the cap, such as using students as workers.) The Obama administration most recently pushed through a rule change that may have short-term effects. Dependent spouses of H-4 visa holders may now apply for work authorization, and it's estimated that 179,600 people would be eligible to apply for such authorization within the first year.

But controversy continues to swirl around whether raising visa caps will have the stated effects. Data from 2013 shows as many as half of H-1B visas issued were used by contract firms based overseas to displace existing U.S. workers. Raising the H-1B cap to make up for a purported lack of competent STEM graduates may be more about companies seeking a cheaper labor pool.

Wanted Analytics, a Quebec-based firm that specializes in "market intelligence and analytics for staffing and workforce strategies," believes there may be more to the STEM picture. In a recently issued report, its researchers claimed the perceived skills gap for STEM jobs may be at least in part due to the "unwillingness of the workforce to relocate," as stated in the report.

"Companies in industries that did not typically focus on software-driven efficiencies before the recession have emerged with new needs for those skills," said a press release that accompanied the report. "However, many these organizations reside in regions where the base of available workers does not match the new demand."

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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