STEM Ph.D. Workforce, Unemployment Surges

According to an infobrief from the National Science Foundation's National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, between 2008 and 2010, the number of people in the United States holding research doctoral degrees in science, engineering, and health fields rose 5.8%, to 709,700—and unemployment in this group rose to 2.4%, up from 1.7%. In many fields, the unemployment rate reached recent highs. Unemployment was highest in the physical sciences, at 3.5%, up from 2.4%  in 2008; that's the highest unemployment rate in recent history by a full percentage point. Next highest was engineering, at 2.8%, up from 1.8% in 2008. Next highest was biological, agricultural, and environmental life sciences, at 2.2%, up from 1.9% in 2008. These numbers include only those in the labor force, excluding those who are retired or not seeking work.

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The authors of the infobrief note that these unemployment rates were far below the national average at the time, for the general population aged 25 or older. They do not, however, compare the unemployment rate to those with comparable education, or to other elite professions that compete for the same pool of graduates. The unemployment rate for physicians and surgeons, for example, is consistently below 1%.

In 2010, the economy was reeling following the financial crisis, whereas in 2008, the effects of the crisis had only just begun to be felt.

Top Image:  CREDIT: Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Collections.

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