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For Hire

Suffering of unemployed chemists is unlikely to end soon

by Susan J. Ainsworth , Sophie L. Rovner , Linda Wang
November 5, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 45


Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN
A photograph of a chemist holding a business card with the words “Ph.D. Chemist, Looking for a job.” printed on its face.
Credit: Shutterstock/C&EN

Like their counterparts in other sectors of the U.S. economy, chemists and chemical engineers have been traumatized by devastating job cuts since the Great Recession began in December 2007.

The economy has been expanding since mid-2009, but the pace of recovery has been “frustratingly slow,” according to U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke, who spoke at a seminar during the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group annual meetings in Tokyo last month.

The recovery has been held back by consumers paying down debt, the weak housing market, tight credit, reduced government spending, and concerns about the medium-term U.S. fiscal outlook. “In this environment,” Bernanke said, “households and businesses have been quite cautious in increasing spending.” That caution has limited both economic growth and improvement in the U.S. job market.

Other challenges include Europe’s fiscal crisis and Japan’s struggling economy. “And in the emerging-market economies, the rapid snapback from the global financial crisis has given way to slower growth in the face of weak export demand from the advanced economies,” Bernanke noted.

Looking ahead, the economic recovery is expected to “proceed at a moderate pace in coming quarters, with the unemployment rate declining only gradually,” Bernanke said.” But “an intensification of strains in Europe and an associated slowing in global growth” aren’t out of the question.

The impact of these forces on chemical industry hiring plans is probed in the first article in C&EN’s Employment Outlook feature package, written by Assistant Managing Editor Sophie L. Rovner. The outlook isn’t promising: The American Chemistry Council says its Chemical Activity Barometer signals slow economic growth prospects into 2013. Both Dow Chemical and DuPont recently reported that they anticipate slower growth in coming months and will make major job cuts (C&EN, Oct. 29, page 7).

In the second article in the package, Senior Editor Linda Wang details the financial devastation and sense of loss suffered by unemployed chemists.

In the final story, Senior Editor Susan J. Ainsworth describes the painful separations endured by chemists who have relocated for work.



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