Unemployment is easing in the U.S. economy as a whole, and that trend is reflected in the chemical sector, according to the latest figures compiled by the American Chemical Society. “The unemployment rate of our domestic chemistry workforce is once again under 3.0%, as it was prior to the economic downturn of 2008–09,” notes Elizabeth C. McGaha, assistant director of ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy (RBS) department, which collects the data.
“It’s good news that the drop in unemployment isn’t solely related to people taking part-time or postdoctoral work,” says Steven Meyers, assistant director of ACS’s Career & Professional Advancement department. Instead, the decrease in the fraction of ACS member chemists who are actively seeking work is “attributable to growth in full-time employment, which suggests that positions with at least 35 hours of work per week are absorbing those individuals transitioning into the workforce.”
Unfortunately, the improving jobs situation hasn’t bolstered wages: “Salaries have still not begun to rebound to prerecession levels,” McGaha says. Even worse, “salaries for ACS member chemists in the U.S. have not kept up with inflation and therefore continue to lose ground in terms of buying power. While this is not unique to the chemical labor market, it is still a concern.”A brief summary of the article's contents (which should be read in full):
Response rate: 23% (this has dropped significantly, with 35% for 2012 and 28% for 2013)
Full-time employed: 91.9% (highest percentage of full-time workers since 2008)
Postdoctoral percentage: 2.3% for 2014
Unemployment: 2.9%, lowest since 2008
An important caveat in the article about long-term unemployment of chemists:
...“it is certainly possible that small numbers of very long-term unemployed chemical scientists and engineers have given up on the job search or moved into non-chemistry-related fields” and therefore don’t show up in the numbers, Meyers says. “Those who have been out of work for a while and have few resources to receive further education or training will eventually take a nonideal position that at least keeps a paycheck coming in, even if it means being underemployed. Once that happens, it becomes more difficult to reenter the chemistry market. We know that some individuals are unfortunately in this regrettable situation; we just don’t have a way to measure how large their numbers are.”If I were King of the ACS (and it is a good thing I am not), I would make measuring/finding this number a top priority.
The blue monster is winning: One of the interesting aspects of the ACS Salary Survey in recent years is its focus on how chemist wages losing ground against inflation. This year is no different.
Despite the discrepancy in the extent of unemployment, Ph.D.s are sharing the same fate as their colleagues in terms of wage increases. For all three degree levels, median wages this March were essentially the same as last year. The median salary for chemists with a doctorate was $102,000, for those with a master’s degree was $85,000, and for those with a bachelor’s degree was $72,000 (see salary trends table on page 71).
But the story gets worse: These findings are stated in so-called current dollars, and therefore don’t account for changes in the cost of living. Calculating salaries in constant dollars—a practice that eliminates the effects of inflation—shows that chemists at all degree levels continue to lose ground with respect to the rising cost of living.
Between 2013 and 2014, salaries adjusted for inflation fell 1.5% for each of the three degree levels. Looking at the data in the longer term highlights stark trends in chemists’ purchasing power. Compared with a decade ago, median salaries have shrunk 11.7% for Ph.D.s, 6.8% for chemists with M.S. degrees, and 7.9% for those with bachelor’s degrees, in terms of constant dollars.This is a big problem, I would think. I would love to know which professions' median wages consistently beat inflation.