A Culling is Coming

Posted on August 4, 2011

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There are roughly three pillars of employment in archaeology (in order of numbers employed): the private sector CRM (cultural resource management) which deals with rescue excavations and surveys; the public sector CRM which deals with insuring that the private sector does its job and looks after public heritage resources; the last pillars is academics and research. There are many other areas of employment but these are the big three.

In case you may have missed it the US congress has just made a “deal” to cut 2.1 to 2.4 trillion dollars off of the Federal budget. That is over a decade and out of a budget of 3.5 trillion dollars annually so not that bad, only about 7% of the total government spending over a decade.

BUT that is not distributed evenly as about 2 trillion of that will be coming from discretionary spending which only makes up 19% of the budget. In other words about 30% of discretionary funding is going to be cut. Not all of the funding for archaeology and archaeologists salaries come from discretionary spending as some of those funds are from mandatory funding. Not to mention that the DOD (department of defense) also employs archaeologists, but it is also getting budget cuts. Still it looks like 20-30% cuts to the majority of departments of programs that employ archaeologists.

Not great but many departments can survive 20% cuts without having to fire to many, or even any, employees. Unfortunately, the cuts are not going to come evenly across all discretionary funding and certain areas will see 80-100% cuts. Will archaeology? That is hard to say but it will be competing against those making sure roads are maintained, food is safe, and criminals are punished.

I will be dead honest, I would cut the job of an archaeologists before I cut the job of the person who inspects my food for salmonella. If I, as an archaeologists, feel this way then I do not have high hopes for those making the cuts. So we could be looking at %80-100 cuts to archaeology funding in the federal government, maybe.

It won’t be as dramatic as mass layoffs seen in the private sector, government is far to slow. Most likely what is going to happen is that over the next 5 years most position just will not be filled when someone leaves or retires and seasonal positions just will not be offered. This will be especially bad as the baby boomers started retiring this year and because they are government jobs they can actually afford to retire, for now at least. A huge chunk of the archaeology workforce will be gone soon.

In other words, it will be a silent culling it which no one complains because only a few people are getting fired. The effects will be the same, in a few years we might have fewer government employed archaeologists, possibly fewer then academics, at the federal level.