Monday, September 1, 2014

The full 2014 ACS Salary Survey is out

A brief note on the last day of a holiday weekend, courtesy of Sophie Rovner and this week's C&EN:
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.

15 comments:

  1. No signs of a STEM shortage...

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I would love to know which professions' median wages consistently beat inflation."

    Think Human Resources and the higher ups in the banking sector.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The ones calculating inflation in the first place.

      Delete
  3. Why do we expect wages to beat inflation? The economic good times are forever behind us in North America. It's a concept I struggle with myself because I'm a narcissistic, entitled Millennial who grew up seeing my baby boomer parents' lives.

    The 'Murican dream has changed from a white picket fence, 2 cars, and happy family, to having a job at all, making your student debt payment, and having enough left over to afford your own apartment.

    ReplyDelete
  4. What are people with a B.S. doing to make 72 k a year? I've got a PhD and I'll never see that sort of of money in my lifetime.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Probably another manifestion of the good old apex fallacy; the most successful and visible people are included in the survey; at the same time being totally oblivious to the fact the rest is essentially working for scraps.

      Delete
    2. 72K for a B.S. is very rare. Most B.S. I know are between 35K - 50K.

      Delete
  5. Median salary is a strange metric, especially if younger people aren't doing so well/are leaving chemistry and thus aren't reflected in these statistics. I would think that median salary X years after PhD (with, without postdoc) would be a much better metric.

    ReplyDelete
  6. "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..."

    Training in what? What are those hot new skills that will pay a dividend on the investment needed to get them?

    ReplyDelete
  7. 72k for a bachelors?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know a lot of PhDs who are getting 55K-65K . The 72K figure seem exaggerated for a B.S.

      Delete
    2. The small number of BS chemists that are ACS members is hardly a representative sample of BS chemists. The almost certainly are biased towards those that have moved up to more senior positions at good employers who will pay their ACS dues. This bias exists across all categories, but I suspect the effect is largest for BS holders.

      Delete
  8. "This is a big problem, I would think."

    A big problem for chemists, yes. For employers a benefit.....

    ReplyDelete
  9. CJ: 72K for a BS chemists? What a BS! Now, I know many PH.D who are not even making that muck and who are these people(s)? Bring them out in open so that we can all see for ourselves.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 72K for a BS Chemist? Someone's lying to the ACS Salary Survey. Reminds me of Pauli's statement of something being so far out that it's not even wrong.

    ReplyDelete