The U.S. STEM Worker ‘Shortage’ Is Not Real

Throughout the nation and in a wide range of industries, there is an urgent demand for workers trained in the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—yet there are not enough people with the necessary skills to meet that demand. – Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs, Microsoft 9/27/12

Fact Check: The media, politicians and corporations constantly proclaim that the U.S. has a terrible shortage of STEM workers, and that the only solution is import more foreigners to do this work through the H-1B visa program. Otherwise, they claim, our economy will languish and decline for lack of these skilled workers.

One leader of this chorus is the Microsoft corporation. It maintains that the numbers of U.S graduates with a bachelor’s degree in computer science are far less than the job openings in computing occupations. But one thing they neglect to mention, notes Edwin S. Rubenstein of ESR Research Consultants, is that a degree in computer science, more often than not, is unnecessary to do computer industry jobs. He cites Professor Norman Matloff (UC) Davis who found that “only 40.2 percent of those with software engineer, programmer or computer scientist titles came to the profession with a [computer science] degree.”

It is true that U.S. graduates in computer science have declined in recent years. But that is understandable given the relatively high rate of unemployment and stagnant wages in the field. Both of these conditions are a direct consequence of Microsoft and other companies importing foreign workers.

If indeed there were truly a shortage of STEM workers, wages in those fields, in general, would be rising. But they’re not. Rubenstein observes that, “From 2000 to 2011, according to the Economic Policy Institute, the average real hourly wage for workers with at least a bachelor’s degree in computer and math occupations rose less than 0.5 percent per year. . . . This is nowhere near the gains you would see if a real shortage existed.”

There are exceptions to the general trend, however, exceptions that show the falsity to the shortage claim. One example is petroleum engineering. In 1997 the average starting salary for a petroleum engineer with a bachelor’s degree was $43,674. In 2010, as domestic oil exploration increased, the total rose to $86,220. With wages going up in such fashion, there has been no shortage of U.S. petroleum engineers.

When companies say they face a shortage of STEM workers what they mean is that there is a shortage of Americans who are willing to accept the lower pay and the lack of rights that foreign workers will endure to gain a foothold in the U.S. The companies are practicing blatant discrimination against their fellow citizens for the sake of greed.       



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