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Job Trends Look Promising

Economy: Full-time employment rises for U.S. chemists, though salaries have stalled

by Sophie L. Rovner
August 4, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 31

Reflecting trends in the general economy, the employment situation for U.S. chemists continues to improve, according to survey results reported this week by the American Chemical Society.

“Unemployment has fallen for every degree level in the last three years,” says Gareth Edwards, a senior research associate in ACS’s Research & Brand Strategy department, which conducted the survey. In addition, “full-time employment is steadily on the rise, which may indicate a recovery in progress.” But the news isn’t all good: Salaries for chemists are stagnating.

The ACS data are drawn from responses to the 2014 Comprehensive Salary & Employment Survey of the society’s members in the U.S. workforce, including bachelor’s-, master’s-, and Ph.D.-level chemists.

This year, some 91.9% of ACS member chemists are employed full-time—defined as at least 35 hours of work per week. Over the past decade, that rate peaked at 92.5% in 2008 and then bottomed out at 88.1% in 2010. By last year, it had recovered to 91.1%.

Conversely, 2.9% of chemists are unemployed, down from 3.5% last year and 4.2% in 2012. This improvement is echoed in unemployment statistics reported by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ACS survey results also show that during the past 10 years, the unemployment rate among U.S. chemists has ranged from a low of 2.3% in 2008—early in the Great Recession—to a high of 4.6% in 2011.

Degree level makes a considerable difference in employability. This year U.S. chemists with a bachelor’s or master’s degree are roughly twice as likely as those with a doctorate to be unemployed. Unemployment for Ph.D. chemists stands at 2.2%, compared with 4.2% and 4.6% for bachelor’s and master’s degree holders, respectively.

Meanwhile, median annual salaries for U.S. chemists are stuck at last year’s levels of $102,000 for Ph.D. chemists, $85,000 for those with a master’s degree, and $72,000 for bachelor’s degree chemists. Because inflation is eating away at those salaries, chemists are actually losing ground in terms of buying power compared with last year, Edwards says.



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