Thursday, March 14, 2013

Median chemist salaries haven't really improved much since, say, 1985

An interesting little graph from the recently (publicly) released 2012 ACS Salary Survey Report:


The accompanying text is oh-so-reassuring as well:
By converting salaries to constant 1984 dollars, the average salaries for chemists (or anyone else) have hardly moved in terms of what you can buy for your money as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In 1985 the median salary for a chemist with a bachelor’s degree was $30,075. In constant 1984 dollars, the median salary for chemists with a B.S degree 27 years later in 2012 had grown to $32,194 -- an increase in real terms of $78 per year, on average. The median salary for a chemist with a master’s degree went from $33,835 in 1985 to $37,054 in 2012, or an increase in real value of $119 per year, on average. For PhD’s the increase went from $41,353 in 1985 to $43,861 in 2012, or $93 in real buying power per year on average. 
Keep in mind that the median represents the salary in the middle of the range. Most chemists reading this who were working in 1985 were probably just starting out and were most likely making a salary in the bottom quartile. Today, those same chemists are likely to be making salaries in the top quartile and they have accumulated a substantial gain in buying power even in 1984 constant dollar terms.
Gosh, I hope they're right.  (Who's the culprit here? Is it inflation, the decline (in relative terms) of American chemical/pharmaceutical manufacturing, the change in business culture (i.e. worker salaries flat, management salaries up?) I wonder how this looks for other fields.)

UPDATE: Respected reader Polychem points out that the 2012 Salary Survey report also includes a section on consulting wages (page 12), all of which are a good bit higher than $25/hr. 

13 comments:

  1. A more insightful number would have started in 1960 to really see how things have been for chemists since the heydays of chemistry emplyment demand. Obviously there is no indication of a real chemist talent shortage since 1985 as salaries have been flat for the past 30 years.

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  2. Surely the culprit is the movement of wealth upwards to the most wealthy, who then proceed to not spend it. isnt that whats happened in the last 30 years?

    It would be informative to put this graph next to one of house prices, in constant dollars.

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    1. What do you think they do, eat it? Rich people aren't some monetary event horizon, they invest in things, buy things and services that other people have to provide, etc etc.

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    2. That's true, but the rich tend to have (on average of course) a greater percent of their wealth "inactive" (not spent or actively invested). They do spend a lot and invest a lot, I can't deny that, but on a per dollar basis they have more money just sitting there, mainly because they can and poorer people tend to not have very much (if any) savings or investments.

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    3. Perhaps, but that seems like a poor description of the situation. That just makes it sound like a dragon sitting on a pile of gold.

      I would say something more like, while there was expanding globalization the chemical worker wage was kept (artificially?) flat because the worker supply increased faster than markets developed for our services, or perhaps outsourcing instead of competing.

      Other professions--IT workers, entertainers, even high-value chemists like high-profile university professors--have been more valued then ever, thus increasing their relative wealth. Whether they need to spend that on something like chemistry is purely speculative.

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  3. Just started looking through the report, but this was interesting:

    "When comparing median annual salaries for full-time chemists with
    chemical engineers, chemical engineers command a 24% premium in
    2012. Chemical Engineers with master’s degrees appear to be in strong
    demand with annual median salaries that are 41% higher, on average,
    than chemists with master’s degrees"

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  4. Another point in the report is the median consulting fees charged by various demographics. Just noticed the timely relevance to an earlier post.

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  5. Do these numbers include other compensation (e.g. health benefits, retirement, etc)? It's about $19,000 a year for our health insurance (paid by the company) that isn't reflected in my salary. I'm sure the retirement benefits are different (perhaps a pension in 1984, but that's replaced by perhaps a low match by the company).

    Yes, your take home pay doesn't have much more buying power, but health insurance costs are probably higher than in 1984.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that's actually a very good point, and one that I missed in the culprits category.

      (And to answer your question, it is my assumption that salary compensation is what is being charted above.)

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  6. Something doesnt make sense to me: I am a PhD chemist in his late 40's making $45 K but I always considered myself to be a failure because I never had the clout (publications, school prestige) to get a better paying job--Im a bench worker in an academic lab. Yet according to this graph I am average. What is wrong here?

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    1. The dollar amounts are still in 1984 dollars. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that $1 then is worth $2.22 today, so multiply the numbers in that chart by 2.22 to give the data in today's dollars.

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    2. Figured it out: 45,000 in 1984 dollars, which is $90,000 today. Jesus I new I was underpaid.

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