STEM employment in the U.S. and foreign workers

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) jobs have been populated by foreign workers. Many temporary H-1B workers are employed in these jobs. Many STEM jobs have been off-shored. In 1994, there were 6.2 U.S.-born workers for every foreign-born worker in science and engineering occupations. By 2006, the ratio was 3.1 to 1.

Michael Teitelbaum, in Falling Behind: Boom, Bust and the Global Race for Scientific Talent (2014) summarizes several studies that address some aspects of degree granting and employment in STEM. There is no consensus that there is a labor shortage, he says, and says that it is easy to see how groups with strong self-interests can find credible evidence that there is a shortage of native-born workers or that there is an ample supply of these workers.

He asks, is there a shortage of STEM workers in the U.S.? A shortage of supply can be determined when these events occur: a strong growth in employment, an increase in wages relative to other jobs, and a declining or low unemployment rate.

Teitelbaum cites a Bureau of Labor Statistics study in 1999 of labor shortages between 1992 and 1997. Despite the strong economy during that period, the BLS found only seven if 68 occupations it studied as having a shortage. “These seven did not include information technology, nurses, or other categories for which employers had been claiming shortages.” The only STEM job with a shortage was mechanical engineering. The six others were management analysts; advertising and PR managers; purchasing agents and buyers; special ed teachers; dental hygienists; and airplane pilots and navigators.

He goes on to cite the STEM Workforce Data Project, which from 2004 to 2007 produced a number of studies. In its final report, the Project found an absence of federal policy to address “the rise of foreign sources of labor that were not available before [off-shoring and foreign workers coming to the U.S.]”

Teitelbaum next summarizes a RAND study in 2002 which failed to find “the kind of vigorous employment and earnings prospect that would be expected to draw increasing numbers of bright and informed young people into [science and engineering] fields.”

Another RAND study in 2008, for the Department of Defense, found that “in sum, unemployment and wage growth patterns are thus no unusual and do not point to the presence of a chronic shortage in S & E.”

He notes that degree production in STEM has not grown at the pace of the growth in STEM jobs, and that degree production in STEM in China, India and South Korea has grown much faster, from smaller bases.

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