Dovetailing with the announcement late last week that Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. is cutting 480 IT jobs is a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that finds the U.S. insurance industry shed jobs for the fifth straight month.

Last month, the industry's payrolls fell to 2.279 million from a seasonally adjusted 2.281 million in February, while the financial services sector as a whole shed 43,000 jobs month-to-month, falling to 7.867 million in March.

The study goes on to show total non-farm payrolls were down 663,000 in March, as the number of jobs lost since the start of the recession in December 2007 hit 5.1 million. Of that total, 3.3 million occurred in the past five months.

Additionally, the jobless rate climbed 40 basis points to 8.5%, the highest figure since November 1983, while the total number of unemployed climbed to 13.2 million. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised January's job losses, originally reported as 598,000, to 741,000, the third-largest one-month drop in history.

Year-over-year, the report finds that insurance payrolls fell 1.5% from the 2.313 million jobs the industry reported in March 2008, compared with a 3.5% decline for nonfarm payrolls. The financial services sector shed 337,000 jobs over the past year, a 4.1% drop.

Reinsurer payrolls grew the most over the past year, based on the February 2009 data, up 4.7% to 29,100. Payrolls for health insurers rose 4.1% to 459,500, while life insurers were up 0.5% to 355,500 and those in the "other" segment were up 2.3% to 53,500.

Every other segment of the industry saw job losses, the report says, with the most severe cuts coming in the title insurance segment. Title insurers have shed 21.4% of their workforce since February 2008, falling to 65,700 positions, the report says.

Job losses also were seen among claims adjusters, down 4.5% to 51,000; third-party administrators (TPA), down 3.3% to 124,800; agents and brokers, down 2.4% to 656,100; and property/casualty insurers, down 1.6% to 481,000.

Average weekly earnings for the industry's nonsupervisory positions rose 6.6% from February 2008 to February 2009, from $838.13 to $893.54, with wages rising in all but one of the eight industry categories. Wages for TPAs fell 0.2% to $775.78 a week.

Additionally, the report finds that reinsurance employees saw the biggest earnings gains, up 10.9% to $826.51. Life insurance employees also saw an increase, up 10.8% to $980.27; health insurers, up 7.5% to $944.49; agents and brokers, up 5.3% to $763.73; property/casualty insurers, up 4.1% to $992.50; claims adjusters, up 3.7% to $898.21; and title insurers, up 3.0% to $806.51.

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