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What STEM Shortage?
The sector isn’t seeing wage growth and has more graduates than jobs.

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The idea that we need to allow in more workers with science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM”) background is an article of faith among American business and political elite.

But in a new report, my Center for Immigration Studies colleague Karen Zeigler and I analyze the latest government data and find what other researchers have found: The country has well more than twice as many workers with STEM degrees as there are STEM jobs. Also consistent with other research, we find only modest levels of wage growth for such workers for more than a decade. Both employment and wage data indicate that such workers are not in short supply.

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Reports by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the RAND Corporation, the Urban Institute, and the National Research Council have all found no evidence that STEM workers are in short supply. PBS even published an opinion piece based on the EPI study entitled, “The Bogus High-Tech Worker Shortage: How Guest Workers Lower U.S. Wages.” This is PBS, mind you, which is as likely to publish something skeptical of immigration as it is to publish something skeptical of taxpayer subsidies for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

RAND’s analysis looked backward in time and found, “Despite recurring concerns about potential shortages of STEM personnel . . . we did not find evidence that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.”

In an article entitled “The Science and Engineering Shortage Is a Myth” for the March issue of The Atlantic, demographer Michael Teitelbaum of Harvard Law School summarizes the literature on STEM. “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 bachelor’s degrees or higher,” he points out. Teitelbaum is one of the nation’s leading experts on STEM employment, former vice president of the Sloan Foundation (a philanthropic institution essentially devoted to STEM education), and author of Falling Behind? Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent, just published by Princeton University Press.

In looking at the latest government data available, my co-author and I found the following: In 2012, there were more than twice as many people with STEM degrees (immigrants and native-born) as there were STEM jobs — 5.3 million STEM jobs vs. 12.1 million people with STEM degrees. Only one-third of natives who have a STEM degree and have a job work in a STEM occupation. There are 1.5 million native-born Americans with engineering degrees not working as engineers, as well as half a million with technology degrees, 400,000 with math degrees, and 2.6 million with science degrees working outside their field. In addition, there are 1.2 million natives with STEM degrees who are not working.

Meanwhile, less than half of immigrants with STEM degrees work in STEM jobs. In particular, just 23 percent of all immigrants with engineering degrees work as engineers. Of the 700,000 immigrant STEM workers allowed into the country between 2007 and 2012, only one-third got a STEM job, about one-third got a non-STEM job, and about one-third are not working.

Wage trends are one of the best measures of labor demand. If STEM workers were in short supply, wages would be increasing rapidly. But wage data from multiple sources show little growth over the last 12 years. We found that real hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) grew on average just 0.7 percent a year from 2000 to 2012 for STEM workers, and annual wages grew even less — 0.4 percent a year. Wage growth is very modest for almost every category of STEM worker as well.

So if there is a superabundance of native and immigrant STEM workers and little wage growth, and STEM immigration already exceeds the absorption capacity of the STEM labor market, why are there calls to allow in even more? The answer, put simply, is greed and politics.

The businesses that want more immigration would get more workers to choose from, holding wages in check and increasing their bargaining power over their employees. What’s not to like? The Republicans listen to their corporate donors in Silicon Valley and elsewhere and respond by promising to increase STEM immigration even further.



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