Friday, July 20, 2012

ACS unemployment rate 2nd highest of last twenty years

The ACS Department of Research and Member Insights is out with the initial 2012 ACS Salary Survey data. In a C&EN story written by Rudy Baum, the results were reported yesterday:
The unemployment rate for American Chemical Society members in March 2012 fell to 4.2% from the record high of 4.6% recorded in March 2011, according to the society’s Membership & Scientific Advancement Division (M&SA). The March 2011 unemployment rate was the highest level recorded since the society began tracking employment in 1972. 
Although still high by historical standards, the 4.2% unemployment rate for ACS members is well below the 8.2% national unemployment rate in March reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That rate was down from 8.9% in March 2011. 
According to Elizabeth McGaha, manager of the Department of Research & Member Insights in M&SA, this year’s salary and employment survey showed that 90% of ACS members were employed full-time as of March 1, 2012; 3.2% were part-time, and 2.6% were in postdoc positions. More than 7,000 ACS members completed the survey, which was conducted with domestic regular members younger than 70. No students, emeritus, retired, or international members were included.
It ain't that great, I think: Among the different qualitative comments in Mr. Baum's article, here are some of the modifiers: "improve slightly", "still high" but "well below" the national unemployment rate, "less bleak". But there's this one from the mouseover text from the line graph accompanying the article:


That's right, folks. We're only at the 2nd highest reported unemployment rate of the last twenty years (remember, 3.9% in 2010 was "the highest percentage of chemists out of work in at least the past 20 years"), so we must be doing "significantly better."

Wrong comparison?: While we tend to compare the ACS unemployment rate against the national unemployment rate, shouldn't we be comparing the March 2012 ACS member unemployment rate against the national unemployment rate for college graduates? In March 2012, that number was 4.2%, which is the same as the ACS member unemployment rate. Food for thought.

There's one more factor to consider: BLS estimates of chemist unemployment have been mostly higher than the ACS number (BLS: 6.1% for 2011, as opposed to ACS' 4.6% for March 2011).

BLS reports that doctoral degree recipients had an unemployment rate of 2.5% in 2011. That all ACS numbers and BLS numbers have been higher than that indicates the difficulties that chemists face.

U6-like at 10.4%: I've long called the ACS Salary Survey's aggregation of members that aren't full-time employees the "U6-like" number, in reference to the broadest U6 measure of unemployment that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses. For March 2012, that number is 10.4%, which appears to be the 2nd highest of the last ten years (11.9% in March 2010). It's nice to see that number trending down. 

Salaries a mixed bag: Ph.D. and M.S. salaries are down (1.9% and 1.1%, respectively), while B.S. salaries are up 2.3%.

A renewed focus: It's important to commend Ms. McGaha and her team for turning this data around so quickly in less than 4 (3?) months. Previous reports of the ACS Salary Survey data have taken much longer to surface (more than a year?). While we all have our issues with the ACS Salary Survey (see the Eka-Silicon caveat below), it's really great to see them become more responsive over time.

It's also nice to see Rudy Baum once again take the lead in writing the C&EN news stories on these issues. Call me naive, but having the C&EN editor-in-chief write these stories shows the growing importance of #chemjobs issues.

It's time for the Eka-Silicon caveat! The ACS Salary Survey and the ChemCensus have both had relatively low response rates from members, which limits the extrapolatability of the data. This year's response rate for the ACS Salary Survey is unknown. A discussion of this can be found in the comments here. At the same time, ACS unemployment numbers for their members more-or-less track the BLS survey data for chemists.

16 comments:

  1. With so many site closures in pharma, many regions of the country go from being potential workplaces to useless for job searches (especially for PhD-level positions). I think this makes the job losses for specialized scientists so much more difficult to get back to work when compared to less-specialized professions.

    When people lose their jobs in healthcare, insurance, finance, manufacturing, and other more "general" fields, they can far more easily transition to another related company within the same region. Yes, that move may be accompanied with a lower position, salary, benefits, etc, but at least they don't have to move states away.

    When PhD's lose their jobs (especially due to site closures), there is a much higher chance they'd have to move. Moving disrupts so much more, especially if there is a spouse and/or children involved. When both spouses are scientists, things become exponentially more difficult.

    I believe that the unemployment rate is lower for scientists, but getting out of unemployment is much more difficult.

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  2. What is the rate for unemployed industrial chemists? If you cut out tenured academic chemists who responded, what is the unemployment rate for the remaining chemists? What is the unemployment rate by industry, the government chemist's unemployment rate, the tenured prof unemployment rate? What is the unemployment rate by age group and degree? What is the respective unemployment rates by chemistry subspecialty? These data will really give us insight as to the sad state of our profession.

    The ACS likes their POS approach, because it obfuscates the harsh reality for chemists. Such magical numbers helps Rudy in making his case for more academic funding, that chemistry is a great profession and we need more imported talent. The ACS management lives in La La land. BOYCOTT the ACS!

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    1. The full data set isn't out yet, but the latest complete data set (for March 2010) is here: http://cen.acs.org/articles/89/i50/Employment-Salary-Survey.html

      If you scroll down to the table labeled "Employment Status of ACS members", you can get some of your questions answered. Things that will not be answered: unemployment rate by industry/academia/gov't, unemployment rate by subspeciality. Things that will be answered: unemployment rate by age group and degree.

      It is my contention (you may think otherwise) that, in the past, ACS members have not argued for funding the ACS Salary Survey (and its supporting departments) sufficiently. I hope that changes.

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  3. The tag should be "Department of Bogus Numbers"

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  4. An interesting fact about the Colorado shooter. I wonder if this has any connection with his rampage?

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/james-holmes-aurora-shooting-medical-student_n_1689794.html

    "Holmes was studying neuroscience in a Ph.D. program at the University of Colorado-Denver, university spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery said. Holmes enrolled a year ago and was in the process of withdrawing at the time of the shootings, Montgomery said."

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    1. Chris Rock once said, while discussing folks trying to come up with a reason/excuse for the Columbine shooters going on their rampage: "What ever happened to crazy?"

      If not being able to find a job and/or washing out of a second-rate graduate program was reason for someone to come unhinged and shoot up a movie theater, I'd imagine we'd have seen a hell of a lot more shootings than we have. This kid had some serious imbalance going on to do what he did. Lack of job prospects wasn't it.

      I'm voting for crazy.

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  5. I let my ACS membership expire in disgust of their shoddy 'survey research' methods. It would probably would be more acurate to call these 'marketing' methods. Keep getting the youth to sign up for chemistry degrees and ACS memberships! I'm done with ACS.

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  6. Would any ACS journal editor let this lame data be published in any ACS journal? Well I guess the exception is that super duper make-believe POS editor Rudy puts out.

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    1. Sure, there are fields that are almost entirely crock but have no trouble being published. Encapsulated catalysis (of MOF/dendrimer kind) comes to mind, for example.

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  7. I'm too lazy too look it up, but is the survey sent to a selection of ACS members or all of them? The reason I ask is that I received the survey every year in the past, until one year when I filled it out as unemployed. I have not been surveyed since, even though I am still a paid-up member.

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    1. I believe it's a selection of members; the ChemCensus (every 5 years) is sent to every member.

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  8. @CJ,
    Thanks, again, for your comments on this issue. While I agree that having Rudy write this up shows that "important people" are taking this "important issue" "seriously". I can't help but wonder what someone with a background in employment science would make of his stance. You point out, rightly, that we should be comparing the percentages for ACS members to ALL graduates. And we should be comparing PhD employment of ACS vs other PhD holders. I'm not one to normally decry C&ENews for spin, but I think that opinions/hopes/mindsets are playing through in this data interpretation. Sigh.

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    1. Thanks, Matt.

      Regarding hopes/mindsets, I'm inclined to give the benefit of the doubt, in that not too many people have thought about the apples/oranges implications of comparing BLS' numbers (reflecting (one presumes) the very best measurement by the US government), to ACS' survey numbers.

      I presume that most people just take one number and compare it to the other -- hey, we're not doing too bad! (For examples of this, go on the Chemistry reddit and see people's responses to this data. http://www.reddit.com/r/chemistry/comments/wvr8k/2012_american_chemical_society_unemployment/

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  9. And fresh on the heels of this unemployment data is a guest editorial by Madeleine Jacobs expressing horror at someone telling their child not to major in science because of the terrible job prospects. Must be easy to throw rocks from that million dollar salary glass house that we ACS members are financing.

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  10. For the data/comparison republished above, it certainly seems to me that one rate being half of the other qualifies as a significant difference. If you don't think that the national unemployment rate is a valid comparison, why don't you write in to the magazine? I see letters to the editor published in there regularly calling Rudy and others out on reasoning disagreements.

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    1. I don't think it is a valid comparison because the educational levels of the two cohorts (the US labor force and the ACS membership) are so different.

      I'd be happy to write into the magazine, but I'm not excited about seeing my name in print. I do not believe C&EN publishes anonymous letters, nor would I expect them to.

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