The Income Umbrella (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Unum Group Corp. has reported an astonishing discovery: Some employers might be expanding.

Unum, Chattanooga, Tenn. (NYSE:UNM), is reporting $214 million in net income for the first quarter on $2.6 billion in revenue, compared with $224 million in net income on $2.6 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2011.

Since the economy began crumbling in a visible way in 2008, Unum has been noting in its quarterly financial statements the same sad finding that other employee benefits sellers have been noting.

The employers it was serving were shrinking.

Some employers were laying off workers. Some employers were restricting access to benefits such as group disability insurance.

But, even when the employers continued to exist and kept at least part of their benefits programs in place, the number of employees was per case was dropping.

Recently, however, ”the company has seen some moderation of the intense price competition in certain market sectors…as well as a slight increase in premium resulting from higher employment and wage increases in our in-force cases,” the company says in a discussion of its latest results.

In part because of that modest growth, overall U.S. group disability premium revenue rose 1%, to $513 million.

Group short-term disability (STD) sales fell 4.3%, to about $13 million, but group long-term disability (LTD) sales increased 21%, to $36 million.

Individual disability sales increased 4.9%, to $15 million, and sales of voluntary benefits products of all kinds rose 16%, to $95 million.

The picture was mixed at some of Unum’s competitors.

Lincoln National Corp., Radnor, Pa. (NYSE:LNC), is reporting $245 million in net income for the first quarter on $2.7 billion in revenue, compared with $315 million in net income on $2.7 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2011.

Although the company’s overall net income was down, disability sales increased 57%, to $28 million, according to the company’s financial supplement.

Overall disability insurance premium revenue increased 6.8%, to $199 million.

But disability unit operating income fell 15%, to $14 million.

Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., Hartford (NYSE:HIG), is reporting $96 million in overall net income for the quarter on $7.7 billion in revenue, compared with $501 million in net income on $6.3 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2011.

At Hartford, group disability earned premiums, fees and other considerations fell to $443 million, from $477 million, and the company says it expects to see more claims, more severe claims, and lower claim termination rates.

Premium revenue is falling partly because of  ”the company’s pricing actions and a challenging economic environment,” the company says.

Prudential Financial Inc., Newark, N.J. (NYSE:PRU), is reporting a $967 million net loss for the first quarter on a consolidated basis on $9.6 billion in revenue, compared with $561 million in net income on $10 billion in revenue for the first quarter of 2011.

The net loss was due mainly to fluctuations in the yen-dollar exchange rate. Prudential prefers to focus on operating income at its financial services business. Operating income at the financial services business fell to $741 million, from $800 million.

Group disability premium revenue fell to $102 million, from $108 million, 

Group disability earned premiums, policy charges and fee income increased to $350 million, from $299 million.

At Prudential, the group disability results include dental and long-term care insurance results as well as disability insurance results, the company says.