MANHASSET, N.Y. Unemployment rates declined slightly in the third quarter for U.S. engineers, marking the first lessening of unemployment since early 2001, according to IEEE-USA. But the total of engineering jobs dipped below two million for the first time in five years, raising questions about the high-tech industry's recovery, the professional organization said.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed an unemployment rate for all engineers of 3.4 percent in the third quarter of 2002, down from 4.0 percent in the prior quarter, IEEE-USA said Monday (Oct. 14).
The total number of engineering jobs (or the number of engineers employed) declined from 2,027,000 in the second quarter to 1,923,000 in the third quarter, the association said. IEEE-USA president LeEarl Bryant called the decline "significant."
"We're not sure if these jobs will return when the economy turns up or if they've been exported to lower-costs overseas locations," she said.
Mechanical engineers were the hardest hit, losing 49,000 jobs between the second and third quarters, IEEE-USA said. Aerospace engineers lost 26,000 jobs over the same period.
The jobless rate for electrical and electronics engineers fell from 4.8 percent in the second quarter to 4.0 percent in the third quarter. In the third quarter, 674,000 EEs were employed and 28,000 were unemployed, according to BLS data. Approximately 2,000 jobs were lost from the second quarter.
The number of jobless computer scientists and systems analysts also declined to 4.6 percent (84,000 workers) in the third quarter, down from 5.3 percent (95,000 workers) in the second quarter, IEEE-USA said. The number of employed workers in those fields increased to 1,717,000, up by 35,000 over the same period.
Bryant said she is not sure if the drop in unemployment rates is an aberration or a trend.
"Despite the hopeful talk about the recession being over, U.S. engineers and computer scientists aren't out of the woods yet, not by a long shot," she said, noting that the fourth quarter is "always a prime time for job cuts."
BLS data measures the nation's unemployment rate and its total labor force, but a BLS spokesman noted that the unemployment numbers are estimates derived from samples provided by the bureau's Current Population Survey of 60,000 households each month. In addition, employment data for specific job titles such as electrical engineers "is more variable because it is based on estimates of a smaller sample than that of the overall labor force," the spokesman said.