O job market, where art thou?

Following up on a thread on the WPA listserv. Here's a link to a September 2009 MLA report that provides data on their Job Information List. Not surprisingly, there was a significant dip in job listings last year, about 25% in overall listings, from 1828 to 1380, and nearly a 30% drop in assistant professor, tenure-track offerings, from 877 to 626. With any luck those numbers will bounce back with the economy, though all indications I've heard are that this year will not be any better than the last.

The report looks closely at the last five years and typically tenure-track asst prof jobs (i.e those our grad students are pursuing) make up roughly 55% of the jobs in a given year.

2008-09: 626

2007-08: 877

2006-07: 884

2005-06: 806

2004-05: 850

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it would appear we confer a few more than 1200 English PhDs per year. I doubt anyone is surprised by this disparity (which obviously does not account for the many ABDs out there). Unfortunately the numbers don't always add up. This ADE report shows 817 graduates in 2003-04, as opposed to 1207 in the NCES report. So there's certainly some apples and oranges business going on here. The ADE report also shows that 407 of the grads got tenure-track jobs. This might seem incongruent with the number of jobs offered, but of course one has to realize that new grads compete with recent grads on the market.

Rhet/comp folks might be happy to see that 72% of new grads in that field get tenure track jobs, significantly better than the 45% in Am and Brit Lit. In 2004 (the last year for which I have data here), rhet/comp comprised 29.4% of the job listings (400 jobs, all ranks) and 12% of Phd grads (89 folks). But I wonder about the continuing growth of PhD programs offering
rhet/comp degrees. It will be interesting to see what happens over the

next decade with those statistics. Will we see increasing specializing in degrees and jobs in rhet/comp? Who knows.

I don't have any startlingly new insights coming out of this. Certainly nothing good. I fear that if PhD production stays constant (likely), that we will have (already have) produced a glut of job candidates that could take the better part of a decade to resolve. That is assuming, best case, that the job market returns to 07-08 levels by the 2010-11 AY (which is not realistic, I fear), we will already have several hundred additional candidates on the market from these last two bad market years.

As near as I can figure, there are only two ways those jobs come back: growing undergraduate English majors and/or developing more grad/professional programs that prepare students for non-academic careers. But that's a subject for another time.

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