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By Jack Ganssle

Doom And Gloom

Published 8/24/2009

The IEEE announced (http://www.ieeeusa.org/communications/releases/2009/070709.asp) that EE unemployment in the US <i>doubled</i> in just one quarter, hitting 8.6 percent in Q2. That means around 15,000 EEs were let go between April and June.

This figure nearly matches the national unemployment rate (the U-3 rate, for those actively seeking a job) of 9.4 percent. This is the highest rate, other than 1982/1983, since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started tracking the data in 1948. (Some argue that U-6, which includes those so dispirited they have given up looking for a job, is more representative. I have trouble understanding how anyone who has to support a family will give up, but that number is over 16%. See figure 8 at https://www.invescoaim.com/pdf/ConRec.pdf for a graph of U-3 and U-6. The numbers themselves are scary, but the first derivative of recent data is horrifying).

Anecdotally, many companies looking for embedded people drop me an email. I usually get a couple a week, but since May there have been exactly two such queries. The demand for consultants also seems to have dried up.

The IEEE claims that unemployment for "all professional workers" is half that for EEs. I guess that means the thousands of pages of various bills in Congress will, as always, create enough confusion to keep lawyers, accountants and civil service workers busy.

The world needs engineers to design solutions for the many problems we face, and to create products that drive a vibrant marketplace. The US needs highly-paid workers - like engineers - for the same reasons, and to pay taxes. The average wage here is about $32k. Most engineers pay more than that in all forms of direct and indirect taxes. Without a solid tax base, it's hard to imagine how the nation will continue to support the bureaucracy.

In this poll (http://embedded.com/pollArchives/showPoll.jhtml?surveyno=264501002) from ten months ago 72% of respondents were reasonably optimistic about their job prospects. Take this week's poll and let's see if and how the numbers have changed.

I had hoped that we learned from the last recession the peril of shedding engineers. Either managers have forgotten those painfully-acquired lessons, or are so desperate to cut costs they're sacrificing the future to stay afloat.

And that's a scary thought.