When MCI Inc. said last week it would cut 7,500 more jobs in 2004, it was a stark reminder to telecommunications workers that, for all the U.S. economy's strength, good times are not here again for the industry.

In the Washington region, there were 35,000 telecom jobs in March, according to the Labor Department, down 30 percent from the March 2001 peak of 50,200. In the past six months, the number has bounced around just above or below 35,000, meaning the industry has stopped shedding a massive amount of jobs, but has not begun gaining them in large numbers.

The biggest chunk of local telecom jobs are in "wired carriers," a category that includes Ashburn-based MCI, fresh out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and Verizon Communications Inc. MCI employs 16,000 people in the Washington region while Verizon employs 4,600; together they account for 59 percent of local telecom jobs. MCI has not said how many of the 7,500 job cuts will be in the D.C. area. MCI previously announced 4,500 in cuts, bringing to 12,000 the layoffs planned for this year.

In the category of Internet service providers, Web search portals and data-processing jobs are down, with 23,900 positions in March, compared with 29,800 three years earlier. The land-line telephone sector is in decline as more people use cell phones, and while Internet use is rising, there is an overabundance of fiber-optic lines.

-- Neil Irwin