Unemployment Data Worst In 40 Years | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 21, 2012

Unemployment Data Worst In 40 Years

ACS News: Unemployment rate of 4.6% for ACS members in 2011 is highest on record
Department: ACS News | Collection: Economy
Keywords: chemical employment, unemployment, American Chemical Society
In 2011, unemployment among ACS members rose despite a drop in the overall U.S. ranks. SOURCES: ACS salary survey 2011, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Line graph shows that in 2011, unemployment among ACS members rose despite a drop in the overall U.S. ranks.
In 2011, unemployment among ACS members rose despite a drop in the overall U.S. ranks. SOURCES: ACS salary survey 2011, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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 chemists in 2011 climbed from a 3.8% level 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 unemployment rate for 2011 among “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 research and 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 the U.S. peak. The exception to this pattern was in the early 1990s, when the ACS rate continued to rise for four years after 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 were up for all degree levels in 2011.

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CisT (March 21, 2012 8:14 PM)
Could it be due to government cut backs and austerity measure?
Jonathan Miller, PhD (March 30, 2015 12:51 AM)
This is a complex issue. It depends upon what area(s) the PhD carried out their research studies and how currently topical it is, publication record or post-PhD employment experience.

Assuming the PhD holder has completed a post-doc or industrial experience and is now facing medium to long-term employment (say six months or more), the PhD holder may have to consider changing direction in terms of research interest or even profession. Let's say, for example, the PhD holder is a bench synthetic organic chemist and struggling to find employment in a pharmaceutical company or academia and up against strong competition (supply vs. demand). An obvious point, the PhD holder must have the strong desire and motivation for the demands of lab research in the first place!

Should the PhD holder wish to change research interest direction, how can he/she get the necessary training and skills without attending expensive university courses (e.g. a specialised conversion MSc) or industrial experience, in essence, a catch 22 situation. Presumably the PhD holder does not have the essential skills to get post-doc in the new area of topical research. Assuming a change in direction is therefore being sought, he/she could consider going into teaching (e.g. high school) where they can use their knowledge or skills to help the younger generation or perhaps employment in another country to that effect.

Prospective PhDs should be made more aware of these issues regarding long-term employment and how 'employable' their avenue of research/skills set gained (e.g. lab skills) is likely to be.

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