As of March 1, 2011, 4.6% of American Chemical Society members were unemployed, the highest level recorded since ACS began tracking employment in 1972, according to the society’s Membership & Scientific Advancement Division (M&SA). What’s more, unemployment for ACS member chemists in 2011 climbed from 3.8% in 2010, whereas overall unemployment in the U.S. fell from 9.7% in 2010 to 8.8% in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
According to BLS, the 2011 unemployment rate for “chemists and materials scientists” was 6.1%. “As the BLS rate is an average for the entire year, and the ACS 2011 number is based on employment status at one point in time, the BLS number may indicate that the ACS 2012 rate will exceed 4.6%,” says Elizabeth McGaha, manager of the Department of Research & Member Insights in M&SA.
McGaha also points out, however, that over the past 40 years ACS member unemployment has often peaked one year after U.S. peaks. The exception to this pattern was in the early 1990s, when the ACS rate continued to rise for four years after overall U.S. unemployment began to drop.
The unemployment picture is bleakest for B.S. chemists, according to the ACS data. In 2011, 6.4% of bachelor’s ACS members were unemployed (up from 5.1% in 2010). By contrast, 5.2% of M.S. members were unemployed (up from 4.8% in 2010), and 3.9% of Ph.D. members were unemployed (up from 3.2% in 2010). Along with the rise in unemployment, ACS chemists reported a notable drop in postdoc positions—only 1.8% of ACS members held postdocs in 2011 compared with 4.0% in 2010.
Chemists’ salaries, however, rebounded slightly in 2011 after falling from 2009 to 2010 and are keeping pace with inflation, McGaha says. For the first year since 2008, the median salaries of chemists increased for all degree levels in 2011.