The nation's computer industry was a booming business in 1980, floating above the morass in other parts of the economy.

Industry shipments for 1980 rose almost 24 percent over shipments in 1979, and the industry is expected to continue to show strong growth over the next five years, according to the Commerce Department's bureau of industrial economics.

The United States led the world in computer production in 1979 (apparently the last year for which figures were available). The United States accounted for 55 percent of the total production by the six principal computer manufacturing nations. The next largest producer was Japan.

The industry was not entirely unaffected by stress that continued to spread through the economy in 1980. Rising costs for both material and workers forced computer prices up more frequently and for many more products than usual.

High interest rates also squeezed profit margins for some manufacturers, according to the Commerce Department report.

Still, by most measures, the industry did well. Shipments rose to about $26 billion. Taking into account the increased price of equipment and the impact of inflation, the real increase in shipments was approximately 19 percent.

Employment in the computer industry grew by nearly 15 percent between the end of 1979 and the end of 1980. The layoff rate in the industry was 0.1 percent contrasted with a rate of 2.2 for all manufacturing.

In fact, the industry's labor problems had more to do with a shortage of skilled workers and the impact that had on wages, according to the report. "There were -- and continue to be -- shortages of experienced labor in such areas as software programming and systems analysis, which have tended to bid up salaries and wages," the report said.

It pointed to a report that showed that programmers with three years' experience could expect to earn about $22,000 -- a 16 percent increase over 1979. That would put programmers among the few workers who managed to stay ahead of inflation.

The report predicted that computer industry shipments for 1981 would reach $32.8 billion, a 26.2 percent increase over the 1980 level. It also predicted that demand for most types of computer products would continue to be strong through 1985. Greatest growth is expected to occur in auxiliary storage and terminal equipment.

Real growth in shipments is expected to average about 15 percent annually through 1985, reaching about $52 billion.

Strong overseas demand has been a factor in that growth, the report said. Exports increased sharply in 1980 for the fourth year in a row, rising about 35 percent of $7.5 billion. Exports accounted for 29 percent of the value of the industry's products.

Growth rates in the industry are expected to be higher in 1981 as the economy recovers, but exports will probably decline as economic activity slows in major foreign markets, the report predicted.

Personal-computer sales have been strong. An estimated 300,000 to 350,000 desktop units in the $500 to $10,000 range have been purchased worldwide for a total value of more than $500 million.

Sales are expected to continue strong, but Japanese manufacturers may take an increasing share of this market, according to the report. It cited reports that "the Japanese are expected to move aggressively into the desktop computer market and by 1982 they could capture approximately 30 to 40 percent of the U.S. market of all types of personal computers."