Friday, February 25, 2011

Factlets from yesterday's ACS Webinar -- March 2010 ACS unemployment: 3.8%, new grads getting hammered

Yesterday's ACS Webinar on chemistry employment and unemployment featured ACS's own Gareth Edwards (who directs the ACS Salary Survey) and 2 economists from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Roger Moncarz and Brian Roberts. You can see all the slides here.

This blogpost will mostly focus on the data from the 2010 ACS Salary Survey, as the BLS outlook is something that we've covered on this blog (that there's really slow job growth projected for this industry, in comparison to materials science.)

Overall unemployment: as of March 2010, the unemployment rate is 3.8% for ACS members, which is slightly lower from the 2009 number of 3.9%. As Mr. Edwards points out, these are the two highest numbers that ACS has recorded since the beginnings of the survey in 1972.

Human capital destruction: The mean jobless period for ACS members is 11 months, with the median at 9 months. As the unemployed are keenly aware, it is commonly believed that skill set erosion starts in at 3 to 6 months. Mr. Edwards suggests that the relative fall in unemployment is probably due to a combination of people leaving the workforce, combined with chemists taking jobs that are below their skill set ("underemployment").

Experience is winning: One of the key messages of the webinar was that contrary to conventional wisdom, it is younger and less-educated cohorts, not older ones, that are experiencing the most difficulty in finding positions in chemistry. The respective unemployment rates for B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. chemists is 5.1%, 4.8 and 3.2%.

Wow: The final, staggering statistic from the webinar was the unemployment rates for new B.S. chemistry graduates: 9.4% in 2008, 15.9% in 2009. By comparison, the New York Times reported that the BLS unemployment rate for college graduates under 25 was 8% in April 2010.

Even more good news: The final quote from the seminar: "The loss of jobs may be a permanent adjustment without the typical recovery of other recessions."


  1. Yikes! This webinar reminds me of something....I used to proctor for a professor in grad school who would open up his lectures to 300+ students - mostly pre-meds - by saying "look to your left, look to your right, by the end of my class, at least one of those people will have dropped out"

  2. Seems like someone could start an interesting blog that alternates between the horrible STEM employment news and the pundits, politicians, wonks, and CEOs warning about a STEM shortage.

  3. A7:08a: That's actually quite a good idea.

    That being said, it's a varied picture. The projected job growth in material science is quite high, as is the projected growth for medical science. It's the ~15th slide in (the 4th BLS slide?) that compares job growth in chemistry to most other life/physical science fields. Needless to say, we suffer.

  4. If skill erosion sets in at 3-6 months, and a chemist re-hires after 9-12 months of unemployment, how long til his/her science mojo is back at full strength?

  5. Something the BLS may not realize is that "materials science" doesn't really exist as a discipline unto itself. In fact, the field includes metallurgy (physical and extractive), corrosion, nanotechnology, microelectronics, construction materials, tribology, polymers, coatings, plasma physics, biological implants, heterogeneous catalysis and surface science, photonics, and just about everything you can imagine. Graduate students in mat sci come from all science and engineering disciplines as do mat sci professors.

    So...I'm not sure if it's so comforting that a catch-all field is growing. It may simply mean that the materials science "brand" is expanding at the expense of other labels.

  6. A11:32a: You know, that's a pretty good point. That said, Brian Roberts did mention that materials science was awfully close to solid-state physics, so I think he has some idea as to the nuances.

  7. A11:32a here. As a materials scientist myself, I have to say that that's pretty inaccurate.

  8. What kind of need is there for more comp science people? Isn't that also one of the growth areas? Could be remembering incorrectly. That could play into the whole mat sci/solid-state phys and chem/computer chip architecture stuff.

  9. Who "commonly believes" that one's skill set erodes after 3-6 months? If it's the hiring authorities, then how is someone like myself who has been looking for ~2 years ever going to be hired??

    Savings gone, living on 401k despite the tax hit....


  10. I graduated in May 2009. It took me a year to find a temporary lab job, doing the most boring work in the lab for $11/hour. NO BENEFITS whatsoever, not even paid sick days.

    Maybe I made a mistake not going straight to grad school, but I can tell you this: there are NO good jobs for young people left in this country. Out of the dozens of science majors I knew, both my friends from high school and those I met in college, I can name exactly THREE who landed actual decent jobs. More went to grad school or med school, but that seems to me to merely be delaying the inevitable. Employment across our entire economy has cratered.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20