Monday, August 13, 2012

The good old days

In this week's C&EN, editor-in-chief Rudy Baum is rearranging his files, and came across an old issue bemoaning the relatively poor job market for chemists in 2003:
The Nov. 24, 2003, issue included C&EN’s annual “Employment Outlook” feature. The first story in the package of stories was titled “Slump Continues for Chemists: Unemployment is at a record high, but opportunities exist for the well prepared.” Sound familiar? 
In her editorial in that issue, entitled “The More Things Change …,” then-editor-in-chief Madeleine Jacobs wrote: “The job market is as soft today as it was in the early 1970s,” when she began her career at C&EN. “Next year promises to be only marginally better than the past two years for graduating chemists.”
Rudy links to an article summarizing the March 2003 Salary Survey data:
These are difficult times for the U.S. economy, and chemical scientists have not been spared the fallout. Unemployment for chemists--as measured by unemployment of American Chemical Society members--is at a record high. C&EN Editor-at-Large Michael Heylin reports that the jobless rate of 3.5% that the most recent ACS Salary Survey reveals as of March 1 this year is up from 3.3% a year earlier. It also exceeds the earlier all-time high of 3.2% set in 1972, the first year of this annual survey. 
Industrial chemists have been hit particularly hard. For those in manufacturing, unemployment is at 4.9%. For those with nonmanufacturing firms, it is 4.8%. However, among academic chemists, unemployment remains negligible at 1.1%, and government-employed chemists are essentially fully employed with an unemployment level of 1.0%.
I hadn't really noticed that the previous all-time high was hit in 2003, which is a bit revealing. I seem to recall a bit of a slowdown back then. But what I think is most revealing is that it's apparent that the breakdowns between industry and academia used to be released:

I wonder why those breakdowns aren't released anymore. I need to check this out. 


  1. From personal experience (SUGEN, closed by Pfizer), in 2003 there was already a marked slowdown in Bay Area for chemists (biologists were still in demand) but at least one could still hope to stay in SF and even try to haggle about the salary.

  2. In 2003, you'll see that 100 minus the sum of the employed rows gives the percentage in the unemployed column. I think that the breakdowns are written as "n/a" because when you add the 2011 "by employer" rows, the total is 100. This means that everyone that responded to that part of the survey is employed. (The Academia row totals 100.1. Does that mean over staffed?)

    I would rather they gave the results as raw number instead of percentages. The way that they have presented this data somehow gives the impression that it is all weighed equally making the "by employer" section (at least) confusing and misleading.

    1. That's a great little catch there, court. (And thanks for introducing me to that Debussy Arabesque.)

    2. Thanks. I'm glad you liked that piece... and listened to it 5 times in a row!

  3. Because you can't be unemployed and have a "current employer"?

    They just seem to have changed the question from "current/most recent employer" to "current employer". Probably not deliberate but just an oversight by whoever they contracted to write the questionnaire.

  4. As someone graduating in 2013 with a PhD in chemistry, it is very depressing to re-read these things. I remember there being a slowdown in 2003 as I entered undergrad. I met a few chemists back then that were already griping about some hard decisions, like having to take some adjunct positions... I thought all this would blow over in a few years, but after ten years of Chemical education, well, I think I'm ready to accept that this is the new normal.

    I have had few job interviews and I am ready to move on from this career if the opportunity comes up.