Monday, September 24, 2012

2012 ACS Salary Survey: slightly lower unemployment, salaries not keeping pace w/inflation

Credit: 2012 ACS Salary Survey
The full data from the ACS Salary Survey is out, reflecting some of what we learned earlier. From an article in this week's C&EN from Sophie Rovner:

The important details:

Unemployment is down slightly: The unemployed number ticked down slightly from 4.6% to 4.2% (which is still the 2nd highest in the last twenty years.) The number of ACS members who are postdocs are still relatively high at 2.6%. Overall the "U6-like" number (part-time + postdoc + unemployed/seeking employment) is still in the double digits, which in my opinion, has been a signifier of the relatively difficult times that chemists have been facing over the last few years.

Salaries are not really keeping pace with inflation: From the article, an interesting set of facts about inflation-adjusted salaries:
The survey revealed that the median salary for chemists who were employed full-time—and who had not changed jobs over the prior year—fell 2.1% in 2012 to $92,000. That decline hit those with a Ph.D. hardest. This group saw a 2.0% drop in median salary to $100,000. Chemists with a master’s degree saw no change in salary from March 2011 to March 2012, while those with a bachelor’s degree experienced an increase of 1.9% to $74,200.... 
Credit: 2012 ACS Salary Survey
For all chemists who were employed full-time—whether they had changed jobs in the prior year or not—the survey showed that the median salary slipped 1.1% from 2011 to $92,000 in 2012. Chemists with a bachelor’s degree saw their median salary rise 2.6% to $73,900. Those with a master’s degree held steady at $85,000, and those with a Ph.D. saw a decline of 1.4% to $100,600. 
Compared with a decade ago, the median salary for bachelor’s chemists has risen an average of 2.5% per year. The median salary for chemists with a master’s degree has grown an average 2.2% per year and that for chemists with a Ph.D. has increased an average of 1.7% annually. These findings are in current dollars, and therefore don’t account for inflation. The sobering truth is that the average annual change in median salaries over the past 10 years in constant dollars—a calculation that eliminates the effect of inflation—is 0.2% for chemists with a bachelor’s degree, –0.1% for a master’s, and –0.6% for a doctorate. Overall, the median salary for all chemists has risen an average of 1.9% per year in current dollars, but shrunk 0.4% per year in constant dollars. (emphasis mine)
Interesting unemployment tidbits: From the article, a set of interesting questions that have not been typically publicized:
The survey turned up some other results that are both intriguing and disturbing. For instance, the percent of ACS member chemists who were unemployed at some point in 2011 was 8.2%, down slightly from 8.4% in 2010. This number has historically been about twice the March 1 unemployment number, ACS’s Edwards notes.  
This year’s survey also includes for the first time questions related to issues of underemployment and staffing. A little more than 12% of ACS member chemists reported that they had accepted a position or compensation package over the prior three years that was less than their previous position in order to maintain employment. 
Unemployment rates remained significantly higher for ACS chemists previously employed in industry (5.4%) than for those from academia (2.2%), according to Edwards. 
Nearly two-thirds of ACS chemists reported that their department or business unit was either significantly or somewhat understaffed. Just over 30% of respondents expected their department or company to increase staff over the next year, and 59% believed staffing levels would remain the same; the other 11% expected staffing reductions.
CJ is bothered by:
  • So this is the data for the 2012 ACS Salary Survey, the one that showed a drop from the all time high of 4.6% member unemployment measured in March 2011. Where is the data for the 2011 ACS Salary Survey?
  • We have been told that the ACS Salary Survey measures unemployment at a specific point during a year (March, typically.) In the article, it is noted that they have numbers for "unemployment during some point in the year" for as far back as 2010 -- why haven't these numbers been released contemporarily? 
  • Where is the traditional "Employment Status of ACS Members" table (scroll down for the 2010 version), with its breakdown of member unemployment? What happened to it? 
More to come as I have time to mull over the numbers.

The Eka-Silicon caveat: I almost forgot! The ACS Salary Survey and the ChemCensus have both had relatively low response rates from members, which limits the extrapolatability of the data.   The response rate for the 2012 ACS Salary Survey was 35%, which is much lower than the 80% that professional survey types like to see. A discussion of this can be found here. At the same time, ACS unemployment numbers for their members more-or-less track the BLS survey data for chemists (see linked graph). 


  1. Thanks for the great blog post.

    I am going for an interview at Adpen analytical research labs this Friday. I have 3 years of relevant industry experience and a BS in chemistry.

    When they ask what salary I am requesting, what should I say?

    1. Never give a number. First person to put a number down loses. Tell them you'd like something competitive for the area and based on your expertise or say that you'd be more comfortable discussing numbers when you get the actual offer. If they insist, you can ask if there's a range for the position. I've always gotten numbers from people by asking that (and it'll give you an idea of what they're thinking without you guessing whether your number is high or low compared to theirs).

  2. I am a MS Chemist with 2 years exp. and i only get 45-50K offers. Am I doing something wrong, or is the Salary survey out of sync with reality?

    1. It must account for BS, MS, and PhD members across all levels of experience. As a BS chemist with 2 yrs experience, I'm earning less than $40k/yr.

      It would be very helpful if they broke down starting salaries and mid-career salaries.

    2. When I graduated out of grad school in 2011 as a MS chemist, I only found jobs offering 50-57k if that's of any use. I only had program lab experience.

    3. I am a Ph.D with 5 and at this point I would jump at 50.

  3. The numbers reported are way high and obviously don't reflect the current situation. I'm a PhD and don't make nearly $100K, nor do any of my colleagues who have managed to get jobs in the past few years.

  4. I hired straight out of grad school (Ph.D) last year for $76k. I didn't have the benefit of Anon8:28's suggestion, and this was the first time interviewing that I got to the point of talking dollars and cents. So, when I got pressured for a number, I stated that, depending on location and job function, I saw salaries advertised and peers hiring in at $75-100k. (Truth be told, the 100k figure dated back to a groupmate's hire made in 2006, but it was one of the few trustworthy bits of data I had.) Kinda convenient that the offer I got was exactly on the low end of the range I provided, but its still more than adequate pay.

  5. Hi CJ,

    You said: The number of ACS members who are postdocs are still relatively high at 2.6%.

    Does this correspondingly mean that 97.4% of ACS postdocs are employed, or am I missing something here?

    1. Hi, Anon1103:

      ACS (correctly, I think) treats postdocs as their own special category, i.e. they are neither counted as full-time employed nor unemployed. So 2.6% of respondents to the survey are postdocs.

      If you're formerly a postdoc and unemployed, I believe you get counted as unemployed.