Unemployment picture brightens for US, but not for pharmas

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Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke isn't savoring the drop in the US unemployment rate to 8.3%, the lowest in three years, and the pharmaceutical industry can definitely relate.

January alone was a flood of pink slips, in which Novartis, Abbott and Takeda announced massive job cuts, to the tune of 4,071 in the US and a round total of close to 5,500.

February – which still has a few weeks left to go—kicked off with AstraZeneca's announcement that it was entering its third phase of layoffs in five years, and will be trimming its workforce by 7,300 positions.

Eli Lilly has taken a different tack, freezing salaries instead of pursuing layoffs to cope with the bite generic Zyprexa has taken out of its sales.

The narrative surrounding these cutbacks and freezes has common threads among pharma companies: they are the result of tanking sales due to generic competition, the impact of healthcare reform, European austerity measures and the residual job fallout of mergers and acquisitions.

The cuts have been cross category, hitting, for example, 24% of the Novartis sales force and 300 headquarter jobs, and shuttering two AstraZeneca R&D operations.

Looking for bright spots depends on the sense of direction. The Fed classifies a 5.2% or 6% unemployment as maximum employment, reports Bloomberg. Scanning the Bureau of Labor Statistics database shows continued erosion of the industry's sales force, public relations and administrative positions between now and 2020, while biochemists and bioengineers are expected to need more lab space.
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