Shortage of STEM Workers a Myth?

    A new study throws mud in the face of continuing claims of a worker shortage in STEM careers — science, technology, engineering and math.

    The research from left-leaning Washington think tank the Economic Policy Institute says the flow of U.S. citizens and permanent residents into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, but for every two graduates, only one has found a job in a STEM field. IT positions make up 59 percent of STEM jobs, according to the study.

    And, as The Washington Post puts it:

    Basic dynamics of supply and demand would dictate that if there were a domestic labor shortage, wages should have risen. Instead, researchers found, they’ve been flat, with many Americans holding STEM degrees unable to enter the field and a sharply higher share of foreign workers taking jobs in the information technology industry.

    Meanwhile, the immigration reform bill proposed by the so-called “Gang of Eight” in the U.S. Senate would raise the official quota of H1-B visas for high-skilled, foreign workers by 69 percent to 110,000 while increasing the number of STEM advanced-degree holders from U.S. schools to 25,000 from the current 20,000.

    Ron Hira, associate professor of public policy at the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology and a longtime critic of the H-1B program, recently told me he sees that as catering to tech industry lobbying, though they claim to want H-1B increases to keep advanced degree holders trained in the United States. He called those claims “a bait-and-switch more than anything”:

    “You would think from the rhetoric from the industry that [advanced degrees] are what they want, but I think what you’re seeing is what they’re really lobbying for.”

    Researchers at Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce have found that those who major in engineering, computer science or business will earn in their lifetime as much as 50 percent more than those who major in the humanities, the arts, education and psychology.

    However, the EPI report says that among computer science graduates not entering the IT work force, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are not available, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations.

    And then there are those who, like many of the women engineers surveyed by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, once in STEM jobs, find a work culture they can’t stand.

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