When I entered the market as a newly minted chemist — many years ago — jobs were plentiful. I had five offers, and that wasn't unusual.
A recent survey showed only 35 percent of new graduates in chemistry and related fields landed jobs last year. Even correcting for those going on to graduate school (some because they couldn't get jobs), there were still 13 percent unemployed — the highest in over a decade.
And chemists are doing pretty well compared to other graduates. The Center for Labor Market Studies reported 54 percent of all bachelor's degree holders under age 25 were unemployed last year.
That's reflected in earnings. Lisa Kahn at Yale reports that one percentage point increase in unemployment correlates with wage losses of 6 percent to 7 percent a year for new graduates. And recovery is slow. Even 15 years after graduation, pay remains 2.5 percent below normal.
Florida is certainly not the best place for science or engineering grads — unless they can get jobs in government or education, the biggest employers in the state.
And it's not just scientists. Florida's growth overall lags behind much of the nation. In 2011, we ranked 37th of the 50 states in job growth and, according to the Office of Economic & Demographic Research, near the bottom in personal income growth as well.
Don't look for big improvements any time soon. Projections peg population increases, a big driver of Florida growth, at only 0.85 percent per year through 2014.
Things aren't much better nationally. The economy has been struggling to show any gains; economists see an upside of only about 2.2 percent this year. Especially troubling is the recent decline in worker productivity, down 0.5 percent since small increases in 2011.
With hiring down, consumer confidence is scraping bottom. The Thomson Reuters Index of Consumer Sentiment reports the lowest consumer confidence since 2010.
Is there an upside? Can we find a silver lining in all this?
The elections, both national and local, will have an impact.
We have a choice nationally between muted spending, taxation that promotes growth and deficit reduction on one hand, and bigger government, higher taxes and frighteningly higher deficits on the other. Pretty clear choice.
Locally, we have a chance to remake the Collier County Commission — some say an historic opportunity. No question the outcome of this month's primary will impact local policy for years to come.
We can also hope for a long-overdue economic development plan — one that everyone, not just the commissioners and developers, can buy into. Why other Florida counties can do it, but not Collier County, is an enduring mystery.
But let's be positive. There is hope for better times, and we can influence those times, at least to some degree, at the ballot box.
In this country, people are inherently resilient. We'll need all of the resilience we can muster this year.