The shortage of scientists and engineers is a myth, writes Michael S. Teitelbaum in The Atlantic. If there were a real shortage, wages would be rising, he writes. To the contrary, “real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.”
U.S. students earn mediocre scores on international exams because large numbers of high performers are balanced by lots of low performers, he argues.
. . . there continues to be a large pool of top science and math students in the U.S. OECD data on “high-performing” students suggests that the U.S. produces about 33 percent of the world total in this category in the sciences, though only about 14 percent in mathematics.
“Every high school graduate should be competent in science and mathematics — essential to success in almost any 21st century occupation and to informed citizenship as well,” he writes. But that doesn’t mean there’s a huge unmet demand for scientists and engineers.
The STEM shortage myth is a myth, responds Robert D. Atkinson in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide. Science and engineering graduates are finding jobs — not just in tech-based industries — at higher wages.
As the Brookings Institution’s Jonathan Rothwell shows, the earnings premium for STEM skills (controlling for experience, education and sex) has grown from around 22 percent in 1990 to 30 percent in 2012. Dartmouth’s Matt Slaughter and UC San Diego’s Gordon Hanson found that “the inflation-adjusted wages of major STEM occupations grew over the last decade while real wages for most other U.S. occupations fell.” Hardly evidence of surplus.
STEM shortage denial is rooted in a desire to keep out high-tech immigrants, Atkinson argues.
Only two of 288 schools that offer computer science — Indiana University-Purdue and Virginia Commonwealth — produced a return below the median for their graduates. At the top of the scale, meanwhile, more than a dozen computer-science schools returned $1 million or more over 20 years, making this the top-performing field.
By contrast, the return-on-investment for business majors varies depending on the college, he points out. “At nine schools, including Fayetteville State in North Carolina, the University of Montevallo in Alabama and Colorado Mesa University, students studying business actually earned a negative return, according to PayScale. That means they would have done better, on average, if they went to work right out of high school and never spent money on college.”
The earnings data relies on self-reporting, so be wary.
In This is Not Your Father’s STEM Job, Jessica Lahey looks at women who are “forging novel, interdisciplinary, STEM-based careers that blur categories and transcend agenda.”
But are they typical of female STEM workers? Probably not.