Electrical engineers see job losses at record levels

IEEE-USA says engineering is a bellwether for recovery

WASHINGTON -- The unemployment rate for electrical engineers reached 8.6% in the second quarter of this year, a record-setting number and double the unemployment rate for the group in the first quarter, according to the IEEE-USA.

The last time the unemployment rate of electrical engineers was anything close to this year's second quarter level was in 2003 when it reached 6.2%. By the following year, the unemployment rate for electrical engineers dropped to 2.2% and continued falling until 2007, reaching 0.9%, its low.

The IEEE-USA, part of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., believes engineering unemployment is a bellwether for the economy's recovery and for job creation.

"These new data suggest we've got a long way to go as the United States attempts to regain its economic footing," Gordon Day, the group's president, said in a statement. Approximately 29,000 electrical engineers were unemployed in the April-June quarter; in the first three months of 2009, that number was 13,000.

"We're surprised by the size of the jump in the unemployment rate and have no basis to predict where it will go from here," said Day.

For all engineers, the IEEE-USA said that the unemployment rate increased from 3.9% in the first quarter to 5.5% in the second quarter. For computer professionals, the unemployment rate remained at 5.4%.

During the last downturn, the IEEE-USA pointed to the use of H-1B visas as one reason for the high 2003 unemployment rate.

The H-1B cap was set at 195,000 in fiscal year 2003, but it was reduced to 65,000 in 2004. When the unemployment rate fell, the engineering association said the decline mirrored the reinstatement of the H-1B visa cap "to its historic level of 65,000." But this time around, the IEEE-USA isn't drawing a connection between engineering unemployment and the H-1B visa program.

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