Ph.D. Unemployment Is Down

Break out the champagne. Unemployment is down for Ph.D. scientists and engineers according to a recent Data Brief issued by the National Science Foundation this month. The data for this study comes from the 1997 Survey of Doctorate Recipients, a biennial survey that collects information about the science and engineering Ph.D. labor force.

In 1997, the unemployment rate was down to 1.2% from 1.6% in 1993. That doesn't sound like a whole lot of difference until you take into account that in 1997 we had more Ph.D.s in the U.S.--69,000 more to be exact. So if there are more Ph.D.s, how come unemployment is down? The answer is that economic conditions are significantly better than they were in 1993, so there are more jobs.

Numbers Mean That Policy Matters

According to a brief issued last week by the National Science Foundation (NSF), money from the federal government supports 20% of all science and engineering graduate students. Virtually all of this money is distributed through five government agencies: the National Institutes of Health, NSF, the Department of Defense, NASA, and the Department of Agriculture. The Department of Energy also contributes 5% of the total federal outlay, "but they don't currently report on graduate student support," says Alan Rapoport, the author of the brief, although they plan to do so in the future.

The take-home message: Ignore policy decisions that affect your primary funding source at your own peril, because there isn't anywhere else to go.