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ACS Salary Survey

September 6, 2010 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 88, Issue 36

Because the article on the ACS Salary Survey reports data as of March 1, 2009, some 16 months later, I assume there were some unavoidable delays (C&EN, July 12, page 37). The value and usefulness of employment data have a quite short half-life, especially in times, such as today, of great concern over employment in this country.

I also have questions about the tone of the July 12 article. From the headline on, it hammers home the message that chemists’ salaries fell between 2008 and 2009. The story confirms and documents this very well to the extent that the median salaries of the chemists who responded to the 2009 survey were lower than the median salaries for the different set of chemists who responded to the 2008 survey. This is unprecedented and newsworthy. But it does not automatically mean that salaries for all, or even most, chemists as individuals fell.

The fact that the respondents to the 2009 survey were one year younger than the respondents to the 2008 survey; that a higher percentage of 2009 respondents than 2008 respondents were relatively lower-paid B.S. graduates; and that a lower percentage were high-paid Ph.D.s has a lot to do with the year-to-year salary declines for chemists as a group.

Assuming the 2009 survey questionnaire was unchanged from previous years, respondents were asked to report their salaries as of March 1, 2009, and March 1, 2008. For respondents employed on both these dates, these data yield the average salary changes over the period for precisely the same population of respondents. Also this population aged by precisely one year. This compares with the one-year decline in age between the respondents to the 2008 and 2009 surveys.

Chemists as individuals always post larger salary gains than the gains (or losses) posted in the results from one survey over the previous survey.

I expect that the 2009 salary increase for chemists as individuals fell shy of the steady 4–5% gains of recent years. But it was very likely much better than the reported 3.2% decline for 2009 respondents as a group.

Michael Heylin
C&EN Editor 1977–95
Falls Church, Va.


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