Drop in Tooth Fairy payments shows economic pain among temp-jobbed IT, US workers

IT hiring theoretically on the upswing, but still leans toward temp rather than permanent jobs

Despite the mass of indicators showing the U.S. economy is on a glacially slow but statistically certain growth curve, there are still fewer jobs for high-skilled IT people than geeks grew used to seeing until the current recession started in December, 2007.

IT job-market analysts Janco Associates, Inc. report a serious dichotomy in corporate IT hiring plans, for example.

Rather than saying they would or would not be hiring IT people at various senority levels, 110 hiring managers interviewed in January and early February said they plan to hire very few IT managers at any level during the next 30 days.

Respondents said they will hire some lower-level IT staffers for full-time jobs, but will focus their hiring on contract or temporary workers who can help keep the lights on and packets flowing without the long-term financial obligation of a full-time worker.

Respondents are more optimistic about the future, however. Ask about their plans in 12 months rather than during the next 30 days, and the overwhelming response was that companies would be hiring IT managers and staff at all levels and scale back the number of their contractors.

That sounds nicely optimistic, but is more likely a generic hope things will improve. "12 months" is a convenient target date that means "sometime in the future if my budget improves," not "we'll hire 8 FTEs by Feb. 24 2013."

IT industry coalition the TechServe Alliance is a little more practically optimistic. The conclusion of its analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics numbers was that IT jobs increased by 600 in November – about 1.5 percent of the 39,000 new jobs that appeared that month.

TechServ predicts overall IT employment will accelerate to a relatively steady 2.5 percent for this year.

Unfortunately most of the economic predictors have overestimated the impact of recession-reversing trends and the number of jobs they'll bring with them; that's been the frustrating part for many who are unemployed or underemployed even two-and-a-half years after the Great Recession (theoretically) ended.

The Gross Domestic Product, Consumer Price index, Producer Price Index, Consumer Confidence Index and other metrics thought to predict the future of the job market have been woefully inaccurate during the past four or five years.

Logically, it makes sense to consider other indicators that may be more accurate, especially if they directly reflect the flow of capital within the microeconomic climate of the family home as an indicator of economic health.

There are a lot of those, too. Among the best (most whimsical, least irrelevant) is the Tooth Fairy Poll, a phone survey conducted by Delta Dental Plans that tracks the average payout to children for each tooth.

That number, according to figures released yesterday, dropped by 42 cents to an average of $2.10 during the past 12 months.

The drop reflects the Tooth Fairy's need "to tighten her belt in 2011, but she's hopeful for a recovery this year," according to Chris Pyle, mouthpiece for Delta Dental.

Is the Tooth Fairy revenue stream a good indicator of where the economy is going? Probably not, though it is taken surprisingly seriously by financial analysts and writers.

The Tooth Fairy may not predict accurately whether those IT managers really will follow through with their plans to hire FTEs late this year rather than contractors.

It does indicate changes in the disposable, available cash within American households, however.

That's more an indication of how well or poorly jobseekers are doing right now, not an indication for the future.

Reducing or cutting off payment for body parts to children, who take such things very seriously, is not a trivial decision for most parents. Serious drops in the average Tooth Fairy payment reflects not just available cash, but increases in emotional pain caused by poor economic outlooks.

Somehow that seems like too much weight for a metric with the words "Tooth Fairy" in the name, but the more I read or think about it the less ridiculous it sounds. Not that it's entirely serious or credible, just less ridiculous.

That's what most of us want for the economy, too. It seems too much do demand a huge turnaround and serious growth. It seems a little more reasonable to hope for less ridiculousness – like hiring temps or contractors to fill open jobs and putting off FTE hiring until later this year, reorganizing IT and business units to try to squeeze even more productivity out of already-lean work teams.

Just a few more good old-fashioned jobs that might make us feel less like the economy is moving steadily in one direction for a little while, rather than flitting all over the place unpredictably (like, say an airborne Fairy) without ever quite landing where it could deliver the goods to parents as well as sleeping kids.

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