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NSF Finds S&E Unemployment Rate Dipped to 2.5 percent in 2006

April 02, 2008

Regional and industry cries of a highly skilled worker shortage, particularly for scientists and engineers appear well grounded based on a recent InfoBrief from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The Foundation reports in 2006, the unemployment rate for scientists and engineers in the U.S. fell to 2.5 percent. Decreasing from 3.2 percent in 2003, the figure is the lowest unemployment rate measured since the early 1990s using the Scientists and Engineers Statistical Data System, NSF reports.
The findings are quite sobering when paired with this week’s release of the widely covered report by America’s Promise Alliance that reveals more than 1.1 million children in the U.S. drop out of high school each year.

NSF defines scientists and engineers as including people who have received a bachelor’s degree or higher in S&E or S&E-related academic fields and people without an S&E degree working in S&E or S&E-related occupations. Unemployment for the U.S. labor market as a whole was 4.7 percent in 2006, about 2.2 percentage points higher than the unemployment rate for scientists and engineers in that year.
Looking deeper at backgrounds of all scientists and engineers in the labor force, irrespective of their level of degree attainment (bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate) further separated by their degree subject field (e.g., physical sciences, social sciences, engineering), unemployment rates lowered from 2003 to 2006 – the only exception being a rise in unemployment for those working in science and engineering whose highest level of attainment was a bachelor’s degree in a non-S&E field. Looking deeper at the major S&E occupation groups, all experienced decreased unemployment rates except for social scientists, where unemployment rose for many of its subcategories from 2003 to 2006. For example, political scientists' unemployment rate jumped from 1.7 percent to 5.7 percent - an increase of 4 percentage points.
In 2006, there were 18.9 million scientists and engineers actively employed in the U.S., including 10.2 million employed in S&E and S&E-related occupations and 8.7 million working in non-S&E occupations. The percentage of scientists and engineers not participating in the workforce remained constant from 2003 to 2006, even though the S&E labor force increased by about 800,000 in this period.
The InfoBrief also contains demographic profiles for scientists and engineers in the U.S. Of the 22.6 million scientists and engineers in 2006, 45 percent were women, it notes. However, women represented 56.4 percent of all scientists and engineers under the age of 30. About 95 percent of scientists and engineers in the U.S. were U.S. citizens.
The median annual salary for those NSF defined as scientists and engineers was $72,000 if they were employed in an S&E field, $60,000 if employed in an S&E-related field and $50,000 if employed in a non-S&E occupation. For employees working in the S&E field, those with a bachelor’s degree as their highest level of degree attainment had a median annual salary of $70,000. Comparatively, those with at least a master’s degree made a median salary of $77,000 and those with at a doctorate made $78,000.
NSF’s Infobrief on employment and demographic data for U.S scientists and engineers can be found at: http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf08305/?govDel=USNSF_141