NEW YORK (GenomeWeb Daily News) — The number of unemployed biological and life scientists in the US grew very slightly between 2003 and 2006 even as their peers in other scientific fields, including computer and mathematical sciences, experienced a decline, according to a government report released this month.
The increase in unemployment was so small that the author of the report classified the numbers as “flat” over the four-year study period.
In addition, while biological scientists lost jobs over the four-year period, the unemployment rate for the entire US labor force during that time declined 1.4 percent, according to US labor force statistics.
The National Scientific Foundation’s biennial unemployment survey found that unemployment between 2003 and 2006 among biological, computer, physical, social, and engineering scientists declined .7 percent to 2.5 percent from 3.2 percent.
Likewise, unemployment among computer/mathematical scientists dipped 1.3 percent to 2.5 percent from 3.8 percent between 2003 and 2006, while unemployment among computer/information scientists fell 1.4 percent to 2.6 percent from 4 percent, the survey found.
However, unemployment among biological and medical scientists inched up .1 percent to 2.6 percent in 2006 from 2.5 percent in 2003, according to the NSF. By comparison, the broader category of “biological/agriculture/other life scientist” saw a .3 percent reduction in unemployment during that period to 2.1 percent from 2.4 percent.
To be sure, not all individuals affected by the numbers are necessarily biological or biomedical scientists. “There are a lot of other occupations that these folks fall into, including technical managers, teachers, and lawyers who have a scientific background,” survey author and NSF senior analyst Nirmala Kannankutty told GenomeWeb Daily News today. “So we have to consider them in both ways.”
Moreover, Kannankutty said that the .1-percent increase in biological/life science unemployment isn’t that large, adding that “the increase can be seen as a flat change over the four-year period.”
“I would consider [the 2003 versus the 2006 numbers] about the same” in that group, she said. “It’s not a significant difference.”
Explaining the “flat” unemployment data for that segment, Kannankutty said the findings are from “sample surveys; we’re not surveying everybody, so .1 percent isn’t necessarily .1. It could be plus or minus.”
Plus, “it would be really hard from our data [to explain] why this happened,” she said. “What we’re really reporting is what people are telling us they are doing. There’s nothing in it that tells us what the labor market is asking for.”
According to the broader findings in the report, entitled “Unemployment Rate of US Scientists and Engineers Drops to Record Low 2.5 Percent in 2006,” unemployment rates “dropped for most” science and engineer occupations.
“The overall unemployment rate of scientists and engineers in the United States dropped from 3.2 percent in 2003 to 2.5 percent in 2006,” according to the NSF survey. “It continues a trend of lower unemployment rates for scientists and engineers compared with unemployment rates in the rest of the US economy.”
Kannankutty, who is currently collecting data for the 2008 study, said that these numbers are the “real story” behind her survey.
The NSF report is based in part on 2006 demographic data showing that the US employed 18.9 million individual scientists with a variety of education levels, employer types, and disciplines, compared to 18 million in 2003.
It broke that number into around 5 million individuals who were characterized as “all science and engineering,” 487,000 as “biological /agricultural/other life” scientists; 2.1 million “computer/math” scientists;” 334,000 “physical” scientists; 470,000 “social” scientists; 1.6 million “engineers;” 5.2 million “science and engineer”-related,” which includes managers and pre-college teachers, architects and actuaries; and 8.7 million “non-S&E” jobs.