In the wake of the injunction against updates to the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), which affected postdoctoral researchers, a number of institutions initially indicating that they would raise salaries to comply with the new minimum have reversed their plans to do so. One such institution was Rutgers University, in New Jersey. As described in this post and this post from Rutgers Postdoc Association, the institution claimed “the court ruling prohibit[s] implementation at this time of the proposed regulations.” This has not prevented other institutions from raising salaries, including the NIH, which has raised its NRSA postdoc stipend levels despite the injunction against the FLSA updates. Indeed, Rutgers (like many institutions) has previously tied its salary levels for postdocs to the NIH NRSA stipend levels. Postdocs at Rutgers are now being encouraged to sign a petition, asking the institution to resume its plans to raise postdoctoral salaries.
As part of the progression of our FLSA and postdocs resource, we have begun requesting all individual postdoctoral salaries from public institutions, using Freedom of Information requests, to see what postdocs in the U.S. are actually being paid. To help provide data to put the Rutgers Postdoc Association petition into context, here we summarize briefly an analysis of the data we received from Rutgers of all individual postdoctoral salaries as of Dec 1st 2016. The trends and data presented here are consistent amongst a number of datasets we have from various institutions.
There is a four-fold difference between the lowest and highest postdoctoral salaries.
Three postdocs are on salaries that are apparently below the current FLSA legal minimum threshold of $23,660.
The data provided by Rutgers shows three full-time postdoctoral associates who are on annual salaries below $23,660 (the salaries are $19,992, $21,758.64 and $23,200). The Fair Labor Standards Act, which covers postdoctoral researchers, has a current minimum of $23,660 for exemption from overtime based on salary. We have contacted Rutgers asking for clarification on whether the data they have supplied us is not accurate, or if these postdocs are having their hours tracked and receiving overtime. We are awaiting their response.
Compliance with Rutgers’ own postdoctoral salary scale does not appear to be enforced.
99 out of 542 postdocs were earning less than the 2016 NIH NRSA scale Year 0 minimum, which Rutgers’ own website on postdoc policy states to be the salary minimum (salary scales here), and which were superseded on Dec 1st 2016 by the new NIH NRSA 2017 levels. 364 out of 542 postdocs were earning less than the new levels.
Furthermore, 19 postdocs were earning salaries at or below $40,000.
Postdoc salaries cluster in specific ranges, particularly influenced by the NIH/FLSA.
Plotted below are the number of postdocs at each salary or salary range at Rutgers:
Intriguingly, 41 postdocs (2 of which are fellows) are on exactly $40,800. There is a large group around the 2016 minimum, suggesting salaries are kept largely at the suggested minimum. Interestingly, there is a large peak at the FLSA update level around $47,476 and the NIH NRSA 2017 minimum of $47,484, suggesting that the FLSA and new NIH levels have had some effect in raising postdoc salaries. There is also a large group in the $50k-$60k salary range, suggesting that postdocs at Rutgers can do very well, perhaps depending on the lab or department (this level of analysis is possible as the dataset identifies researchers, like most public salary datasets, but has not yet been conducted to identify the departments or labs with best and worst practice).
The range is skewed lower for postdoc fellows, suggesting that it is less favorable to be on a fellowship than being treated as an employee at Rutgers:
This dataset uses Rutgers data to support efforts in the postdoc association’s petition, but this post does not aim to single out Rutgers particularly. In fact, the average salary trends higher at Rutgers than other institutions we have analyzed, which so far come out around the widely-assumed $45,000 mark. The four-fold difference between the lowest and highest postdoc salaries so far is a very common finding. Likewise, salaries below the FLSA threshold of $23,660 are low in number, but to be found at several institutions so far.
Therefore, it should not be assumed that because the average postdoctoral salary is $45,000, there are not postdocs earning less than $40,000, or $30,000, or even $25,000 full-time annual salaries at institutions in the U.S. Postdocs and potential postdocs need to be aware of these discrepancies, and to avoid places that allow them to occur, and we are working to provide a comprehensive analysis of U.S. postdoctoral salaries for them, and the wider academic community.