Tech Employment Returns to Dot-Com Heights

August 15, 2017
technology jobs

Technological innovations and automation are creating huge impacts on consumer and business behaviors. So what has been the impact on the technology sector itself, where firms, entrepreneurs and innovators develop these disruptive technologies? A recent article in The Regional Economist took a look at employment in the tech sector.

Regional Economist Charles Gascon and Research Associate Evan Karson found that the technology sector1 has grown rapidly in recent years. This is true not just for the U.S. as a whole, but also in the Eighth Federal Reserve District.2

“While the tech sector is small in size, it plays a critical role in driving innovation and productivity growth, and the sector generates disproportionate economic spillovers,” the authors wrote. “The tech workforce is also one of the most highly skilled labor pools in the economy, and high demand for tech workers has been a key driver of wage growth.”

Employment in the National Tech Sector

“The technology sector has a dynamic history of expansion and contraction,” Gascon and Karson wrote. “Its first high-growth period lasted from 1990 to 2000, a time traditionally thought of as the ‘dot-com boom’ or the ‘tech bubble.’”

During that boom, national employment in the tech sector shot up by 36 percent, while average wages for tech workers doubled. At its peak in 2000, tech employment represented just over 4 percent of total private jobs.

After the tech bubble burst in early 2001, tech employment fell sharply. “By the time it bottomed out in 2004, the sector’s workforce had shrunk by 17.8 percent and the tech employment share had declined to 3.4 percent,” the authors wrote.

From 2004 to 2008, the tech sector experienced modest job growth, which ended in 2009 as the sector contracted due to the financial crisis and the Great Recession.

Beginning in 2010, the tech sector began a robust expansion. “In 2015, U.S. tech sector employment reached 4.6 million, pushing the tech share to 3.9 percent of total employment, effectively matching its level in 2000,” Gascon and Karson wrote.

Other Measures of the Tech Sector

Over the past 25 years, the tech sector has seen other changes beyond employment figures, according to the authors.

In terms of wages, the tech sector has outpaced the private sector:

  • In 1990, the average tech-sector worker earned $1.60 in wages for every $1 earned by the average private-sector worker.
  • By 2015, the tech-sector worker earned $2.20 for every $1 earned by the average private-sector worker.

The distribution of jobs within the tech sector also has changed in the past 25 years. Until 1996, the majority of tech jobs (about 60 percent) were in manufacturing. In 2015, nearly 80 percent of tech workers were in services.

Tech in the Eighth District

The share of tech jobs in the Eighth District is relatively modest. In the District, tech jobs3 accounted for an estimated 2.1 percent of private-sector jobs in 2015, compared with 3.9 percent nationally as seen in the table below.

Total Tech Employment (2015) Technology Employment Share (2015) Employment Growth (2010-15) Wage Premium (2010-15) Wage Growth (2010-15)
National 4,631,634 3.9% 20.3% 2.2 20.8%
Eighth District 227,085 2.1% 26.3% 1.8 10.5%
St. Louis 32,592 2.9% 5.3% 2.0 7.7%
Memphis, Tenn.† 4,542 0.9% 7.8% 1.5 16.3%
Louisville, Ky. 12,485 2.3% 52.4% 1.4 9.2%
Little Rock, Ark.‡ 7,531 2.9% -6.1% 1.6 13.5%
SOURCE: Bureau of Labor Statistics.
NOTES: "Wage Premium" is calculated as the employment-weighted average of the average weekly wages for the seven tech sector industries divided by the average weekly wage for private sectors. The numbers in bold are the highest values among the metropolitan statistical areas for each category. Due to nondisclosure at the county level for some industries over time, estimates for the Eighth District technology sector are calculated as the sum of data for the entirety of all District states except Illinois. We excluded Illinois from our calculations since most of Illinois' economic activity stems from the Chicago area, outside the District. The other District states are Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. District estimates using county and metro area data range from 1.3 percent to 2.4 percent. Total tech employment for the District is calculated as 2.1 percent of total private employment in Eighth District Counties.
† Industry employment shares for Shelby County, Tenn., were used to estimate nondisclosed North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) industries for the metro area.
‡ Industry employment shares for Pulaski County, Ark., were used to estimate nondisclosed NAICS industries for the metro area.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

However, the number of tech jobs in the Eighth District has been increasing at a faster pace than the U.S. From 2010 to 2015, the District’s tech employment rose 26.3 percent compared with 20.3 percent nationally.

During that period, tech jobs grew 52 percent in Louisville, Ky., far outpacing the growth of these jobs in St. Louis and Memphis, Tenn. Little Rock, Ark., saw its tech jobs drop mostly due to employment losses in data-processing services.

Notes and References

1 The technology sector is defined as these industries: computer manufacturing; electronic shopping; software publishing; data processing, hosting and related services; internet publishing and broadcasting and Web search portals; computer systems design; and scientific research and development services.

2 Headquartered in St. Louis, the Eighth Federal Reserve District includes all of Arkansas and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee.

3 Due to nondisclosure at the county level for some industries over time, the authors calculated estimates for the Eighth District technology sector as the sum of data for the entirety of all District states except Illinois. The authors excluded Illinois from their calculations since most of that state’s economic activity stems from the Chicago area, which is outside the District.

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