High-tech job cuts soar in Q1

The U.S. technology sector suffered 84,217 job cuts in the first quarter, according to Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which reported the figure is a 27% increase over the previous quarter and the largest total since the end of 2002.

First quarter totals are about five times higher than the same period last year, which peaked at 17,345 high-tech jobs cut. The firm reports that job cuts in the technology sector -- which includes telecommunications, computer and electronics -- have  increased in each of the last five quarters by an average of 42% every three months.

Still, the totals of the dot-com bust outnumber today's highest levels yet. According to the outplacement firm, 133,511 jobs were cut from the technology sector in the fourth quarter of 2002. Challenger, Gray & Christmas says that during 2001 and 2002, a total of 1,163,742 tech-sector jobs were cut, an average of 145,467 cuts per quarter.

But technology sector job cuts are expected to remain "heavy in the coming months," the firm reports.

Industry research firms Gartner and Forrester Research both adjusted 2009 spending forecasts downward by about 4% and 3%, respectively. With other sectors such as healthcare and government cutting back, technology companies are ultimately impacted.

"When all these sectors make cutbacks, it inevitably impacts the technology sector," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a statement.

Specifically, the telecom industry saw 18,972 jobs cut, the computer sector lost 31,580 jobs, and electronics positions eliminated totaled 33,665 in the first quarter.

"We may start to see an increase in merger activity among tech firms, as they attempt to gain an economic and competitive foothold in this downturn," Challenger said. "In most mergers, the first step taken to offset the cost of the merger is to eliminate redundant positions."

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