The percentage of new doctorate recipients without jobs or plans for further study climbed to 39% in 2014 from 31% in 2009, according to a National Science Foundation survey released in April.
Median salaries for midcareer Ph.D.s working full time fell 6% between 2010 and 2013.
The reason: supply and demand. Production of doctorates in the U.S. climbed 28% in the decade ending in 2014 to an all-time high of 54,070.
That surge has come as more Americans see a postgraduate degree as a hedge against stagnating wages and unemployment in an economy demanding increasingly specific skills and expertise.
In addition, critical pockets of public and private funding that have traditionally supported jobs for doctorate holders in their research fields have dwindled.
The pharmaceuticals industry, for example—the largest employer of chemists in the country—has moved much of its research overseas, shedding 300,000 jobs in the U.S. in recent years.
Salaries for chemists with Ph.D.s fell 12% between 2004 and 2014, according to the American Chemical Society.
Ph.D.s still earn a significant premium over others in the labor market and their overall rate of unemployment remains low, though a growing number are taking jobs that don’t use their education.
At the same time, their median incomes have been falling. Computer scientists earned $121,300 in 2013, down from $129,839 in 2008; engineers saw a drop to $120,000 from $125,511 and social scientists fell to $85,000 from $90,887.
The decline in full-time hiring in universities has resulted in tens of thousands of Ph.D. holders teaching classes for around $3000 each without benefits.
And postdoctorates, once a year-long stopover for scientists on the way to better research positions, are now stretching four years on average. Most pay between $40,000 and $50,000 a year.
As a result, many graduate students are considering careers outside the academy or their research field. This has led to credential inflation as Ph.D.s fill jobs traditionally held by professionals without such lofty degrees.
For Belkin’s complete Wall Street Journal story published on June 14, click here.