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Unemployment by College Major: The Dim Job Prospects for Architecture Grads, New and Old

January 5, 2012 by Joshua Wright

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, an EMSI client, has published one insightful data-driven study after another the past few years, and its latest report continues the trend. Led by Anthony Carnevale, the Center analyzed unemployment rates and earnings by college major, focusing on recent graduates using 2009-10 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

As covered in the Washington Post and others, recent college graduates — defined as those aged 22 and 26 with a bachelor’s degree — face the worst job prospects coming out of architecture programs (13.9% unemployment), followed by arts (11.1%), humanities and liberal arts (9.4%), social science (8.9%), and law and public policy (8.1). We’ve written about the dim outlook for law grads, and it’s no shock that liberal arts degree-holders have bulky jobless rates. But architecture doesn’t belong at the top of the list, right?

Actually, it does.

The employment outlook for all architects — not just new grads — started to sour in 2007, in conjunction with the onset of the Great Recession and jarring collapse of the construction sector. It has only started to recover in the past year or so — and perhaps most perplexing, the number of architecture graduates in the nation continues to rise.

What the Data Shows

Counting the self-employed and other workers not covered by unemployment insurance, EMSI estimates there are about 165,000 architects in the US, down from 190,000 in 2006. That’s a 13.1% decline in the last five years, with most of the job loss coming from 2008 to 2010.

The decline has been widespread, impacting Arizona (-28%), Nevada (-27%), and Florida (-24%) most on a percentage basis since 2006. Not coincidentally, those three states also lost the largest percentage of construction jobs during the recession (Nevada has lost an astounding 56% of it construction employment since ’06).

Meanwhile, South Dakota and North Dakota are the only states that gained architecture jobs since 2006 (notice the faint green on the map below). Nebraska, Mississippi, and Vermont saw minimal losses.

State2006 Architect Jobs2011 Architect Jobs2006-11 Change% Change
Arizona4,4483,190-1,258-28.3%
Nevada1,198875-323-27.0%
Florida11,3238,617-2,706-23.9%
Montana801626-175-21.8%
Idaho948755-193-20.4%
Delaware387309-78-20.2%
Illinois8,7947,030-1,764-20.1%
District of Columbia2,0241,663-361-17.8%
Minnesota3,0072,487-520-17.3%
Colorado5,8304,828-1,002-17.2%
Georgia6,2395,190-1,049-16.8%
New Mexico1,2041,006-198-16.4%
California25,78721,937-3,850-14.9%
Pennsylvania7,2266,185-1,041-14.4%
New Jersey5,2014,451-750-14.4%
Connecticut2,7372,351-386-14.1%
Wisconsin2,6202,267-353-13.5%
Missouri3,3862,933-453-13.4%
South Carolina2,6312,280-351-13.3%
Total190,306165,334-24,972-13.1%
North Carolina4,5753,983-592-12.9%
Virginia5,3314,653-678-12.7%
Oregon2,9762,616-360-12.1%
Michigan4,3873,862-525-12.0%
Alabama2,4482,159-289-11.8%
Rhode Island527468-59-11.2%
Ohio5,9845,340-644-10.8%
Indiana2,5632,289-274-10.7%
Massachusetts6,9536,268-685-9.9%
Kansas1,4421,308-134-9.3%
Oklahoma1,2241,116-108-8.8%
Hawaii1,004916-88-8.8%
Washington5,4334,973-460-8.5%
Maryland3,5573,262-295-8.3%
Louisiana2,2882,099-189-8.3%
Kentucky1,7441,600-144-8.3%
Maine805739-66-8.2%
West Virginia401368-33-8.2%
Utah1,4251,309-116-8.1%
Iowa1,2591,157-102-8.1%
Wyoming312288-24-7.7%
New York14,82013,718-1,102-7.4%
Tennessee2,7242,534-190-7.0%
Texas15,11814,208-910-6.0%
Alaska413390-23-5.6%
New Hampshire818786-32-3.9%
Vermont502486-16-3.2%
Arkansas973946-27-2.8%
Mississippi1,0991,085-14-1.3%
Nebraska917916-1-0.1%
North Dakota30030331.0%
South Dakota193206136.7%
Source: EMSI Complete Employment (2011.4)

Uptick in Architecture Graduates

The steep decline in the job market for architects hasn’t discouraged students from pursuing architecture degrees. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, more than 10,000 earned their diploma in the main architecture program (CIP 04.0201) in 2010, a 26% increase since 2003 — and a 11% increase since the recession took hold. Note that these graduates still must pass the Architecture Registration Exam (ARE). Passage rates (see here) have averaged less than 70% in recent years, and substantially more candidates have taken the ARE than completed programs since 2006.

Compare these supply numbers — conservatively between 7,000 and 10,000 given ARE passage rates and repeat test-takers — with EMSI’s estimated annual openings for architects: 4,836. There looks to be a considerable oversupply of architecture graduates (and new licensed architects) nationally and in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, among other states.

Reasons for Optimism?

It’s not all bad news for recent architecture grads, particularly those who get master’s degrees (currently 28% of the workforce has one). Georgetown’s report showed that the unemployment rate for architects with a master’s is 7.7%, still quite high but far below the 13.9% jobless rate for grads who are aged 22-26 and have just a bachelor’s.

Also, as the economy picks up and construction — particularly in the commercial realm — starts to regain its footing, it seems sensible to expect the job market for architects to drastically improve. We’ve already started to see a very slight uptick in architect jobs from 2010 to 2011 (0.8%), and the occupation is projected to add more than 4,000 jobs in the next three years.

For more on this data, email Josh Wright or reach us on Twitter: @DesktopEcon.

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