How has the academic job market for philosophers changed in the recent past? I noted last year that it looked as though fewer tenure-track or equivalent jobs were being offered year to year from 2013 to 2015. This job market has just started, and if we look at the period of August 1st to October 20th in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, 2016 seems no worse off than 2015, but both years have fewer jobs listed in that period than in the previous two. To get a more complete picture, I decided to compare tenure-track jobs listed over the full year, from January 1st to December 31st, to the listed graduates in APDA from 2013 to 2016. Two things are worth noting here. First, 2016 is not yet complete, so there are fewer jobs listed in that year for that reason alone. (I suspect its numbers will end up being similar to those for 2015.) Second, PhilJobs has a great many job listings, but not every job listing, so the number of tenure-track jobs are likely somewhat higher in reality (but I do not have an estimate of how much higher). Keeping those details in mind, this comparison doesn't look too bad at first, with 1,486 graduates to 939 jobs, or a TT placement rate that could be as high as 63% (if all of those jobs went to graduates of that time period, which is very unlikely as many of these jobs are "open rank" searches).
But one reason that this looks relatively rosy, at least to those of us familiar with the academic job market, is because there are more than twice as many graduates in the APDA database for 2013 as for 2016, and this is not because there were more than twice as many graduates in 2013--it takes time to obtain complete graduation records, and thus APDA is less complete for more recent years. Take a look at the number of jobs per year as compared to the number of graduates per year in the graph below--as you can see, it appears as though the situation is growing better year to year, even though there are fewer jobs listed in each calendar year. But this is because APDA does not on its own provide an accurate number of how many graduates there were in 2015 and 2016.
How can we compare the available jobs to the actual graduates, given this issue? One way is by estimating yearly graduates. Below are two such estimates.
First, the Survey of Earned Doctorates has information on the total number of graduates from philosophy PhD programs in the United States* for 2013 and 2014: 520 and 479, respectively. If we estimate that the graduates in 2015 and 2016 are about the same as the average of these two years, we would expect a total of around 2000 graduates for these 4 years. If we assume that all jobs listed at PhilJobs went to graduates of programs in the United States in this time period, the placement rate could be as high as 47%.
Second, APDA has a method of estimating graduates in which it takes the higher value of either the number of graduates in the APDA database or the average number of graduates reported by SED, PhilJobs, and the APA Graduate Guide per program per year. Although we are only able to do this for around 100 programs, we can use the numbers from those programs to estimate how many graduates are missing from our records overall (with the caveat that we are likely missing more information for programs outside of this special list, so this estimate may be overly conservative). APDA is thus estimated to have records for 77% of all graduates in 2013 and 2014, making the total estimated graduates for 2013 and 2014 617 and 608, respectively (note: these numbers are larger than those from SED because they include graduates from the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, and other english-language graduate programs). If we assume that the graduates in 2015 and 2016 are approximately the same as the average for 2013 and 2014, this would mean a total of around 2500 graduates in this time period. In that case, the TT placement rate is likely to be no higher than 38% (if all of those jobs went to graduates of that time period).
In sum, the academic job market does look somewhat worse in 2015 and 2016 than it looked in 2013 and 2014, since fewer jobs have been offered in those years. Yet, both SED and APDA reported fewer graduates in 2014 than in 2013--it is possible that the number of PhD graduates has also been dropping in recent years, which would not be represented in the estimates I provided above. When SED releases its 2015 report, and when APDA has a chance to fill in graduation information, we may have a fuller, more accurate picture.
*although SED has a 90% response rate, it is actually able to fill in missing information to provide the total number of graduates