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Volume 87 Issue 3 | p. 8 | News of The Week
Issue Date: January 19, 2009

15,000 Jobs Lost

Chemical payroll losses mirror those in U.S. economy
Department: Business

THE SPREADING credit crisis forced job cuts in just about all sectors of the U.S. economy in 2008, and the chemical industry was no exception.

The U.S. chemical industry lost 15,000 jobs in 2008, down 1.7% from the end of 2007. That decline, to 847,000 jobs, was almost as bad as the 1.9% decline in jobs for the overall economy, which shed 2.6 million workers. Economists expect the situation to get worse in 2009.

Job prospects in the chemical industry are "pretty lousy," says Frederick M. Peterson, president of consulting firm Probe Economics. "The numbers may not even hit bottom this year." Still to be seen in the unemployment figures are the effects of massive layoffs announced by firms such as Dow Chemical, DuPont, and Praxair.

However, Peterson sees a silver lining in the multi-billion-dollar stimulus package under discussion in Congress that may boost infrastructure spending. Such a package could mitigate job losses among chemical companies that supply the construction industry.

Workers downstream from the chemical industry fared even worse in 2008. Department of Labor data show that the construction industry lost 632,000 jobs, down 8.5% from the end of 2007. And the motor vehicle industry saw 161,500 jobs evaporate, for a 16.8% loss.

Just a few months ago, T. Kevin Swift, chief economist for the American Chemistry Council, a U.S. chemical industry trade group, forecast a 3% drop in chemical industry employment in 2009. As the broader economy deteriorates, he expects he will have to revise his forecast for an even larger loss.

Chemical employment peaked at 1.1 million jobs in 1981, and has trended downward since, Swift notes. He attributes the decline to productivity gains, outsourcing, and jobs lost to overseas competitors. The one bright spot had been the pharmaceutical industry, a statistical subset of chemicals, which saw steady job increases over the decade through the end of 2007.

However, available data show that pharmaceutical makers cut about 4,700 jobs, down 1.6%, through the end of November 2008.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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