Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

There Is No STEM Worker Shortage

One of the memes you hear in education circles is that there is a terrible shortage of trained workers in STEM fields and we simply MUST graduate more STEM students or import them from foreign shores before the Russians or the Chinese or the Venetians overtake us in this highly competitive, globalized economy.

Like so many memes in education these days, that STEM meme turns out not to be true:

A study released Wednesday by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: that the STEM worker shortage is a myth.

The EPI study finds that the United States has “more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations.” 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 IT industry. (IT jobs make up 59 percent of the STEM workforce, according to the study.)

The answer to whether there is a shortage of such workers has important ramifications for the immigration bill. If it exists, then there’s an urgency that justifies allowing companies to bring more foreign workers into the country, usually on a short-term H-1B visa. But those who oppose such a policy argue that companies want more of these visas mainly because H-1B workers are paid an estimated 20 percent less than their American counterparts. Why allow these companies to hire more foreign workers for less, the critics argue, when there are plenty of Americans who are ready to work?

The EPI study says that while the overall number of the U.S. students who go on to earn STEM degrees is small — a fact that many lawmakers and the media have seized on — it’s more important to focus on what happens to these students after they graduate. According to the study, that they have a surprisingly hard time finding work. Only half of the students graduating from college with a STEM degree are hired into a STEM job, the study says.

“Even in engineering,” the authors say, “U.S. colleges have historically produced about 50 percent more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs each year.”

The picture is not that bright for computer science students, either. “For computer science graduates employed one year after graduation . . . about half of those who took a job outside of IT say they did so because the career prospects were better elsewhere, and roughly a third because they couldn’t find a job in IT,” the study says.

Whereas those with liberal arts degrees might be used to having to look for jobs with only tenuous connections to their majors, the researchers say this shouldn’t be the case for graduates with degrees attached to specific skills such as engineering.

The tech industry has said that it needs more H-1B visas in order to hire the “best and the brightest,” regardless of their citizenship. Yet the IT industry seems to have a surprisingly low bar for education. The study found that among IT workers, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree. Among these, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree.

The bipartisan immigration plan introduced last week by the so-called Gang of Eight senators would raise the number of H-1B visas, though it would limit the ability of outsourcing firms to have access to them. Tech companies such as Facebook and Microsoft have fought hard to distinguish themselves from these outsourcing companies, arguing that unlike firms such as Wipro, they’re looking for the best people, not just ones who will work for less.

But some worry that the more H-1Bs allowed into the system, the more domestic workers get crowded out, resulting in what no one appears to want: fewer American students seeing much promise in entering STEM fields. 

There is no shortage of STEM workers.

Americans with STEM degrees having problems getting work in STEM fields.

Companies are looking to import foreign workers so they can pay them 20% less in wages and drive down wages in STEM fields even more.

That's the takeaway here.

As one commenter at the Washington Post article puts it:

We who work in STEM, which I have done all life, including in the Army, know that if there was a STEM shortage the answer is granting full citizenship to foreign immigrants with a working knowledge of English and an advanced degree from a US university.

H1-B is just a way to suppress wages and line the pockets of the 1% that Congress works for, at the expense of almost all US citizens.

 Another one writes:

We have known this for quite a while. Next breaking story: there is really no shortage of American construction workers.

What we have a big surplus of are big businessmen and politicians who are globalists, not nationalists. People who will sell out Americans for a few bucks. To put things in old-fashioned words, we are talking about those willing to engage in economic treason.

Remember this STEM meme is a myth the next time you hear Arne Duncan or his boss, Barack Obama trot it out as another excuse to bludgeon teachers and schools.


  1. Paul Craig Roberts (of the Reagan Administration) has been writing about this for over 7 years now at, the online opinion site started by the late Alexander Cockburn.
    He also wrote about the impending financial collapse as well.

    1. Thanks for reminding me about Paul Craig Roberts. I have to go back to Counterpunch and read his writings again. I remember he exposed much of the Bush mythos early on while the rest of the media were still bowing down to the Bush codpiece!

    2. While going back, don't forget to read the articles by Alex's brother Patrick from the ground in Iraq. Unlike most journalists, he traveled through the streets of Bagdad and from reading him you could tell things weren't going the way Bush/Cheney/Powell/Rice/Bremer/Wolfson/Perle et. al. promised.

  2. In fact, engineers are increasingly becoming what ed deformers want teachers to be: temporary contract workers. As you point out, the STEM shortage is a complete lie.

    Seventy percent of current and projected future jobs, according to the BLS, require no college or training, and those are the jobs students of the high stakes testing regime are being prepped for.

    If you can comply with the poverty wages, authoritarianism, tedium and surveillance, you've raced to the top.