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ACS releases 2019 salary survey data

by Bibiana Campos Seijo
November 3, 2019 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 97, Issue 43

How much does a chemist make in the US? Of course you know how much you earn, but how close is that figure to what you should be earning? Are you overpaid (I doubt it), underpaid (sure feels like it), or getting a fair deal (likely the category where most of us fall)? I ask this because after a hiatus of 2 years, the American Chemical Society has released its 2019 salary survey data. If you are looking for a new job or getting ready to have your end-of-year performance review, it’s probably worth your time to spend a few minutes going over the numbers so that you’re armed with the data you need to be sure that the offer is as good as it looks or to negotiate the pay raise you think you deserve.

So what are the key points? You will note that this survey focuses on three types of employers: academia, industry, and government. The first thing to say is that overall, median salaries were up slightly when compared with 2016 and flat when adjusted for inflation. Industry remained well ahead of academia in pay—no surprises there—but since 2016, the gap has widened slightly, with the difference now exceeding $40,000. Also, chemical engineers made more than chemists, and that gap appears to be widening too (a gap of $38,000, according to 2019 data, compared with $25,000 in 2016).

In 2019, men earned $26,950 more than women, a difference that increased slightly since the last survey. To put this into context, note that the World Economic Forum estimates that at the current rate of salary growth, it will take 216 years to achieve salary parity between men and women across the globe. That’s not until the year 2235. A new study of the pay gap at US federal agencies suggests that the origins of the disparity may differ by organization. Of course, we are comparing US to global data here, but you get the gist: It’s going to be a very slow road to parity in pay between genders.

In terms of race and ethnicity, the differences are startling, with the gap between top earners (Asian respondents, at $107,000) and bottom earners (black respondents, at $85,000) exceeding $20,000. Another slow road indeed.

In terms of unemployment, the figure of 2.6% remained static since 2016. That is a different picture from the one we described 10 years ago when the US was in the midst of an economic recession and the unemployment rate reported by the 2009 ACS salary survey had shot to 3.9%, the highest in decades.

Accompanying the ACS salary survey data is the latest edition of Bench & Cubicle, in which Chemjobber offers a primer on salary negotiations.

I’d also like to refer you to the tips on salary negotiation that we gleaned from a C&EN Table Talks event that we hosted during the ACS fall national meeting in San Diego. Table Talks covered a variety of topics, including combating invisible work, battling impostor syndrome, and more.

A table led by Martins Oderinde from Bristol-Myers Squibb focused on how to ensure you’re compensated fairly. We distilled the outcome of the conversation into five tips that you must keep top of mind as you enter pay negotiations.

I encourage you to spend some time investigating the data and reading the salary-related stories that we offer you this week. Please note that data have not been normalized by job type or years from graduation, so you need to take that into account. But the information will certainly serve in taking the temperature of the current job market for chemists.

If you are looking for a change or your first job, I invite you to visit our jobs board, C&ENjobs, to see the latest opportunities at

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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