ST. PAUL (AP) -- The computer systems industry has been one of the state's hardest-hit sectors outside of manufacturing with nearly one in five jobs disappearing from 2000 to 2002.
That means 5,400 people lost their jobs. And they're among the highest-paid workers in the state, earning more than $1,300 a week on average last year.
The information technology job market, of which computer systems is a small facet, is expected to pick up with the economy generally. Signs of hope are emerging. Businesses seem more willing to spend money on tech products and services. Some laid-off workers say they've noticed more job opportunities lately, too.
State job data released last week showed improvement. In May, average employment in the computer systems industry was up a half-percentage point over the same month last year -- the first year-over-year increase since March 2001.
Still, nobody's expecting a return to the boom times anytime soon. And for the people behind the statistics, tough times persist.
A year ago, Marlin Morseth got laid off. The 42-year-old database administrator was a casualty of cost-cutting. But he was still confident he'd find a new job; in the past, IT workers always did.
Since then, Morseth has circulated more than 150 resumes. He's spent up to 30 hours per week networking, scouring the Internet, following up leads -- essentially working to find IT work. The results: three interviews, none of which led to a job.
In the meantime, he's dropped his health insurance -- too expensive. He's sold his house -- the payments were no longer affordable. He's run out of severance pay and unemployment benefits, and is now living off his latest tax return.
"I always thought, if you are willing to work and look for a job, you will find one," Morseth said. "Until I was unemployed, I didn't realize how bad the job market is."
Morseth's jobless benefits are gone, both his original 26-week grant and his 13-week emergency extension. He's far from alone.
The number of Minnesotans who exhausted their first 26 weeks of unemployment compensation jumped 52 percent from 2000 through 2001, and rose another 68 percent last year, hitting 68,451. Through May 2003, exhaustions are running only 1.5 percent behind last year's pace.
Settling for jobs that pay less -- that's the new reality for many IT workers. "A lot of the people who used to be making $60,000 to $90,000 will be looking at $40,000 to $50,000," said Annie Horovitz, chief executive of Premier Computer Education, a Twin Cities computer training school.
Still, Morseth thinks the job market might be about to turn. He said he's gotten more calls in the past few weeks from recruiters than he has at any time in the past six months.
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