Angry Birds boom spurs U.S. job revival on mobile device demand

Posted March 05, 2012, at 6:41 p.m.

WASHINGTON — A surge in technology-industry hiring is helping to spearhead a jobs-market revival as demand swells for computer-software applications and data.

Online help-wanted advertising for computer and mathematical occupations rose 3.4 percent in January from December to the third-highest since the Conference Board began compiling the data in 2005. Vacancies outnumbered job seekers by more than three to one, according to the New York-based research group. Postings on tech-career website Dice.com are 12 percent higher than a year ago, with openings for workers skilled in mobile applications up more than 100 percent.

“This feels like the beginning of another tech-driven jobs boom,” said Michael Mandel, chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington. “The broad communications sector resisted the downward pull” of the recession and “is going to be a leader in the expansion.”

Government figures to be released on March 9 will show that payrolls grew by 210,000 in February, according to the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. If that estimate proves correct, job growth in the past three months would total 656,000, compared with 471,000 in the previous three months. The unemployment rate is projected to hold steady at a three-year low of 8.3 percent.

Technology shares are outperforming in the market so far this year, with the Vanguard Information-Technology Exchange-Traded Fund, which includes Apple and Google, up 16 percent compared with a 9.4 percent rise for the SPDR S&P 500 ETF.

Even as conditions get better, some big technology companies are cutting jobs. IBM Corp., the world’s largest computer-services provider, fired more than 1,000 workers in North America last week, according to an employee advocacy group. Doug Shelton, a spokesman for the Armonk, N.Y.-based company, declined to confirm the size of the reductions.

Smaller businesses, though, are taking on workers as the so-called app economy blossoms, with more than 500,000 software programs now written for Apple’s iPhone alone, according to the Cupertino, Calif.-based company’s website.

Bully! Commercial and Entertainment Media, a Baltimore- based company that specializes in augmented-reality applications, has increased its workforce to 21 people from 11 in about the past six months and is looking to hire more, said Carlson Bull, executive director and founder.

“We’re in demand; I’d like to ride that,” said the 40- year-old Bull, who added that the company is considering opening up other offices, including overseas.

Tim Burks, of one-man software-development shop Radtastical Inc. in Palo Alto, Calif., said he gets two to three calls a day from recruiters trying to hire him for other businesses. And “it has gone up lately,” the 45-year-old added.

The app economy now is responsible for about 466,000 jobs in the United States, up from zero in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced, according to a study released last month that Mandel did for TechNet, a Washington-based group of executives that promotes technology issues. The total includes app-related positions at companies including Amazon.com Inc. and employment spillovers to the rest of the economy.

Apple deserves some credit for the gains, according to Bret Swanson, president of Entropy Economics, a research firm in Zionsville, Ind. Despite criticism that the tech company is building the guts of the iPhone in China, the product has led to the creation of jobs in the United States, even if they aren’t all necessarily at Apple, he said. “The iPhone launched a new software industry.”

A separate study released in January by economists Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett found that the shift from 2G to 3G Internet and wireless-network technologies led to the creation of more than 1.5 million jobsfrom April 2007 to June 2011 in everything from construction to retail.

“This looks like an unusually powerful jobs driver,” said Shapiro, undersecretary of commerce under President Bill Clinton. “After all, it created 1.5 million jobs at a time when the economy was losing five million.

“And the transition from 3G to 4G in terms of jobs is more promising,” added Shapiro, who is now chairman of economic consultant Sonecon LLC in Washington.

Hassett, director of economic-policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, sees two economic effects from these advances: “Angry Birds” and “Angry Boss.”

The first, named after the game application, refers to the growing number of developers creating similar software programs, said Hassett, an economic adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona during the 2008 presidential campaign. The second references the ability of bosses to stay in constant touch with their employees, increasing productivity, profits and ultimately jobs as money is plowed back into businesses.

Congressional authorization last month for sales of wireless spectrum “will support massive job creation” by freeing up airwaves for use by mobile devices, Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who heads the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in an emailed statement.

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