The tricky part in this post-sequestration era is predicting how various sectors will be affected as the spending cuts begin. The Scientific American website reports that the federal government is the main funder of basic scientific research.
The Congressional Research Service prepared a study Sequestration: A Review of Estimates of Potential Job Losses. A salient paragraph in the document said, “The industries estimated to experience the greatest direct and indirect job losses also differed considerably. Federal government employees could face much larger direct and indirect job losses as a result of cuts to non-defense budgets (268,000 jobs) than to the defense budget (56,000 jobs).
In the private sector, employees at professional and business services firms could face the largest direct and indirect job losses (180,000) due to non-defense budget cuts and manufacturing employees might incur the largest job losses (223,000) due to DOD budget cuts.”
The report doesn’t go granular in describing the sequestration’s impact. The battle will occur at research universities. Wealthy universities have a cushion with various sources of funding. The middle-sized and small universities, virtually all Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have small rainy day funds.
In a Scientific American guest blog, MIT professor of science writing Tom Levenson said, “sequester cuts will strike bluntly across the scientific community. The illustrious can move a bit of money around, but even in large labs, a predictable result will be a reduction in the number of graduate student and postdoc slots available—and as those junior and early-stage researchers do a whole lot of the at-the-bench level research, such cuts will have an immediate effect on research productivity.
The longer term risk is obvious too:fewer students and postdocs means an ongoing drop from baseline in the amount of work to be done year over year, and given that industry has reduced its demand for research-trained Ph.Ds., a plausible consequence is that some, many perhaps, of those with capacity to do leading-edge science will simply never enter the pipeline, shifting instead to some other career that does not demand six years and more of poorly paid training to find that there are no jobs.”