Just the Facts

by Dave Schuler on March 20, 2014

The fact is that there is no shortage of science, technology, engineering, and math workers in the United States, as Michael S. Teitelbaum points out in his article in The Atlantic:

A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.

The unemployment rate for recent STEM graduates including fields in which it is claimed there are shortages is quite high. Post-docs are increasing in duration, generally considered a sign of an inability of newly-minted PhDs to find any other job.

Why then do Bill Gates (net worth: $67 billion), Larry Ellison (net worth: $43 billion), Sergey Brin (net worth: $22.8 billion), and Mark Zuckerberg (net worth: $13.3 billion) feel the crushing need to import more foreign graduates? Because they want to push down the wages of the workers they employ. Simple as that. IMO there’s already a prima facie case that they colluded to prevent competing on wages with each other. Is it that much harder to believe that they’d lie to push the wages for their workers even farther down?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jimbino March 20, 2014 at 10:28 am

Of course.

It’s fundamental economics that shortages can’t exist long-term in a free market. It takes gummint action to create shortages or surplusis. But consider: I am an unemployed rocket scientist who simply turns down jobs offered because of low pay, drug-screening requirements, health “benefits” offered in lieu of pay, FMLA and sick-leave policies and much more. I wouldn’t do rocket science again, at least for the the USSA gummint, until offered a deal like nazi Wernher von Braun got long ago, before we physicists were offered benefits in lieu of pay and our off-duty lives were controlled by a nosy employer.

PD Shaw March 20, 2014 at 12:14 pm

My 12 yr old daughter went on a field trip to the U of Illinois engineering campus a few weeks ago. This was to encourage interest in majoring in STEM, but having seen the engineer’s quad I was skeptical. I figured what she would see were very few women and very few America citizens. International students account for almost 25% of the student body, about half of those from China, followed by South Korea and India. For a field trip with a superficial purpose, superficial observations might yield mixed messages.

The increase in international students appears to be money-driven, as out-of-state tuition and lack of eligibility for financial aid are factors in a time of declining state funding. I wonder how this factors into the availability of domestic STEM majors.

... March 20, 2014 at 2:05 pm

What our rulers say is frequently pure bullshit, and their pronouncements on education and immigration are guaranteed to be 100% self-serving bullshit of the freshest, smelliest type. If you hear a president or billionaire or congressman or senator or even a lowly hectomillionaire comment on either topic you can be certain that (a) they’re lying and (b) everything they want is designed to destroy the middle-class as we once knew it.

Ben Wolf March 20, 2014 at 5:19 pm

The level of scientific and engineering investment in the country has produced over-supply of qualified workers for those fields. We can employ them or let me them rot; I advocate against the latter, as we’ll be poorer than we would otherwise be if they were producing.

mike shupp March 20, 2014 at 8:12 pm

Apropo of not quite anything … It’s interesting to note that in say 1950, scientists and engineers had relatively high social status, like doctors and lawyers and school teachers and ministers, since they were in the ten percent of the populace with college degrees. Which meant they were viewed as “professionals,” they had relatively high incomes, their opinions on politics and international affairs were thought to matter (at least the S&Es thought they did), they were the logical candiates for filling managerial vacancies, etc.

Anymore, they’ve slipped down the ladder to being ordinary white collar workers. Of course, this is true as well for school teachers and librarians and other occupations. So it’s interesting to reflect that, amid all the grouching about the rise of “the 1%”, we’re witnessing a great levelling out of American class structure. A modern day de Toqueville would probably give it a chapter or two.

Dave Schuler March 21, 2014 at 8:40 am

Almost, Mike. I’ve published these stats before but forty years ago the incomes for professionals were within roughly 20% of each other (engineers’ starting salaries were typically higher than those of other professions but didn’t grow as fast). Average incomes of engineers, lawyers, etc. are still within 20% of each other. The average income of a physician today is 300% higher than those of other professionals.

mike shupp March 21, 2014 at 3:54 pm

Ah! Live and learn.

Thanks for the comment; I’ll bear it in mind in the future.

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