July 9,
Volume 79, Number 28
CENEAR 79 28 p.9
ISSN 0009-2347
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Unemployment lowest in a decade; salaries up across the board


This year's version of the American Chemical Society's annual survey of its working members reveals the strongest employment situation for chemists in more than a decade. Unemployment is down, more jobs are available, fewer chemists are in postdoctorate or part-time positions, and salary increases are solidly in excess of the rate of inflation.

IN GOOD COMPANY Larger numbers of chemists are working this year than at any time since 1990.
Women chemists responding to ACS's annual surveys generally get equal pay for equal work. However, although 25% of all respondents are women, more than 30% of those employed in chemical information and analytical services--the two lowest paid work functions--are women. Only 15% of those in general and R&D management--the highest paid functions--are women. Some but not all such differences are related to women chemists being, on average, six years younger than men chemists.
ACS defines the chemical workforce as those with full- or part-time jobs, on postdocs or fellowships, or unemployed but seeking employment. It does not include those either fully retired or otherwise unemployed but not seeking employment. C&EN's full report on the survey will appear in the Aug. 20 issue.

Of chemists responding to this year's survey--which, as usual, asked for data as of March 1--94.6% had full-time jobs. This was up from 92.9% one year earlier. It was also the highest level since 1990. The number unemployed was down from 2.0% in 2000 to 1.5%, the lowest since 1990. Those with part-time jobs dipped from 3.0% to 2.5%. And those on postdocs fell sharply from 2.1% to 1.4%--the lowest level on record.

The median salary of all chemists responding this year was $73,000. This is 4.3% higher than the $70,000 for those responding to the 2000 survey. This gain compares favorably with a 2.9% increase in the Consumer Price Index over the year. The median for those with a bachelor's degree was $55,000, up 3.6% from last year. For those with a master's degree it was $65,000, up 4.8%, and for doctorates it was $82,200, up 4.1%. The median salary gain for individual chemists working for the same employer in both 2000 and 2001 was 4.9%. The mean increase was 6.9%.

Year-to-year salary increases obtained by comparing data from two separate surveys taken one year apart can on occasion yield uncertain and erratic results owing to the vagaries of the sampling and polling process. However, the gains this year are likely real because they are both relatively large and reasonably consistent across the major subsets of the chemical profession.

The much-improved overall employment situation for chemists this year represents a rather belated response to the eight-year economic expansion--the longest in U.S. history--that began in 1993 and is now petering out. Throughout this period, while the overall U.S. employment situation became the strongest it had been since 1969, the total percentage of chemists either working part-time, on a postdoc, or unemployed held stubbornly in the historically quite high range of about 7 to 9%, before falling to 5.4% this year. In earlier good times for working chemists, less than 5% were without a full-time job, most recently in 1990 at 4.8%.

The year's findings are compiled from approximately 9,800 responses, including 8,700 from chemists, to a questionnaire sent to a random sample of a little more than 20% of ACS's roughly 95,000 working members. This year, as in the previous six years, the survey was conducted by Mary W. Jordan, senior research analyst for the ACS Department of Career Services.

As would be expected, the past year has brought no major changes in the demographics of the chemical workforce. The percentage that are women remained steady at 24.8%. The representation of Asians edged up again, to 11.4% from 11.0% last year. As recently as 1990, it was 6.3%. And the percentage that are either native or naturalized Americans, something that has been drifting downward, also edged up a little, from 89.8% to 90.2%. In 1990, it was 94.8%.

Another parameter that did not change during the year was the median age of chemists. It remains at 45, up from 42 in 1995 and 41 in 1990. This gain largely reflects the passage of baby boomers--those born between 1947 and 1964--as they age and move through the profession. For chemists, this demographic bulge is manifest in the relatively large baccalaureate graduating classes from the late 1960s through the early '80s. Baby boomers will help to keep the median age of working chemists high for some years to come.

This aging is not peculiar to chemists. Over the past decade, the median age of the U.S. domestic labor force has moved up from 36.4 to 39.2.

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