Life sciences employment has weathered recession fairly well

Bioscience-related jobs actually grew in 2008 and public companies overall generated positive net growth throughout 2009…but pharma specifically did take a hit

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Based on the findings of the Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Initiatives 2010 study, recently released by Battelle Memorial Foundation and the Biotechnology Industry Organization, the U.S. bioscience industry continued to show employment gains through 2008, which was the first year of the recent economic downturn, and publicly traded bioscience-related companies on the whole generated positive net growth through 2009. Admittedly, though, the news wasn't so good for those in drug discovery and development.

According to the study—a collection of national, state and metropolitan data on bioscience employment and growth trends from 2001 to 2008, and based on industry data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—U.S. employment in the bioscience sector reached 1.42 million in 2008, a gain of 19,000 bioscience industry jobs in the United States since 2007. At the same time, overall private-sector employment had fallen by 0.7 percent.

According to the report, those more than 1.4 million people who finished 2008 employed were in one of four life-science specialties: research, testing, and medical labs; agricultural feedstock and chemicals; medical devices and equipment; and drugs and pharmaceuticals.

The 2008 data showed a 2.3 percent year-to-year decline in pharma employment, a 7,445-job loss reflecting a lot of consolidation in the industry. However, among the other specialties—between 2007 and 2008—research, testing, and medical labs grew by 11,670 jobs, or 2.1 percent; medical devices and equipment increased by 10,140 jobs, or 2.4 percent; and agricultural feedstock and chemicals gained 4.6 percent, adding 5,021 jobs.

The report also indicates increases in academic bioscience research and development, more bioscience higher education degrees awarded in 2008, and increased NIH funding between the federal 2007 and 2009 fiscal years.

The good news is, however, somewhat colored by federal interventions. Certainly, there was a 14.6 percent jump in NIH funding between federal fiscal year 2004 and federal fiscal year 2009, when funds from the $862 billion federal stimulus measure are included. But when funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds are taken out of the equation, NIH funding between fiscal years 2004 and 2009 actually dropped by 4.7 percent, from $22.5 billion to $21.5 billion, according to the report.

The 75-page report acknowledges that the full effect of the recession on life sciences hiring isn't completely reflected in its pages, noting, "The real impacts of the recession are likely to be reflected in the 2009 data once these data become available."

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