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Ed Frauenheim

Staff Writer, CNET

In the holiday month of December, Santa gave computer services professionals more shiny new jobs–but those in tech manufacturing got the equivalent of a lump of coal.

The U.S. Department of Labor said Friday that the U.S. economy added 9,700 payroll jobs in the arena of computer systems design and related services, to bring the total to 1.16 million. Jobs in this field have been rising since April and are up by 57,300 positions since last December. But the number of payroll jobs in computer and electronic products manufacturing dropped by 1,800, to 1.34 million–the fourth straight month of decline in this category.

Overall, the U.S. economy added 157,000 payroll jobs in December, bringing the total to 132.3 million. Roughly 150,000 new payroll jobs per month are considered necessary to keep up with the growth of the labor force in the United States. The nation’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 5.4 percent, the Labor Department said.

Mixed news has emerged recently about the job market for information technology professionals, who weathered massive job cuts earlier this decade and face the threat of offshoring–the transfer of high-skilled jobs to lower-wage nations such as India. Technology workers’ confidence in the job market fell in November but rebounded in December. In addition, IT services companies have been hiring, and analysts have warned companies to take steps to retain prized workers as the job market tightens.

Aside from job growth in the area of computer systems design and related services, employment also increased in December in the category of management consulting services and technical consulting services. The number of payroll jobs in this field rose by 2,500 in December, to 797,900, according to the Labor Department.