Tuesday, May 27, 2014

STEM the Tide: Popcorn by The Colonel # 97 of 100 (only 3 left!)

What’s a Girl to Do?

Many people, including The Colonel, have been encouraging girls and young women to take “hard” courses and prepare for jobs in the STEM sector (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

That advice has been based on the belief that there’s a growing shortage of people to fill STEM jobs.

The belief now seems to be wrong, a by-product of this country’s immigration debate. Here are some facts from a recent study (identified at the end of the column).

The country has well more than twice as many workers with STEM degrees as there are STEM jobs.

In the past ten years, STEM workers have enjoyed only modest wage growth.

Both employment and wage data indicate that such workers are not now in short supply. Nothing indicates that a shortage is on the horizon, either. Here are some 2012 figures:

Number of STEM jobs: 5.3 million

Number of people with STEM degrees: 12.1 million (combined immigrants and native-born)

Fraction of native-borns with STEM degrees working in STEM jobs:  1/3

Number of native-borns with engineering degrees not working as engineers: 1.5 million

Number of native-borns with technology degrees working outside their field: 500,000

Number of native-borns with math degrees working outside their field: 400,000

Number of native-borns with science degrees working outside their field: 2.5 million

Number of native-borns with STEM degrees not working (unemployed): 1.2 million

Fraction of immigrants with STEM degrees working in STEM jobs: less than 1/2

Percentage of immigrants with engineering degrees working as engineers: 23%

Of the 700,000 immigrant STEM workers allowed into the U.S. between 2007 and 2012, a third are working in STEM jobs, about a third are working in non-STEM jobs, and about a third are unemployed.

If STEM workers were in short supply, wages would be rising. But wage growth in STEM jobs has been modest for 12 years.

For example, real hourly wages (adjusted for inflation) for STEM jobs grew on average just 0.7 percent a year from 2000 to 2012. Annual wages grew even less, only 0.4 percent a year.

So if native and immigrant STEM workers are abundant and wage growth in STEM is flattish, how did the idea get around that there’s a present and looming shortage, so practical young women and girls should go for STEM courses and degrees?

The answer seems to be immigration politics.

Simply put, Silicon Valley businesses want (1) more STEM workers to choose from, (2) wages held in check, and (3) more bargaining power over their employees.

So they lobby for admission of more immigrant STEM workers into the U.S., using a supposed shortage of STEM workers as the justification. That appears to be the origin of the shortage meme.

It’s tough being young today, and tough to figure out how much educational debt to take on and for what purposes. It would be a shame if they made choices based on misinformation.

There’s nothing wrong with following your bliss. Many teachers went into teaching when it was much less well compensated than now, for love of teaching. If STEM is your interest, go for it, but do so knowing and accepting the likely level of compensation and competition.

If you’ve a real head for numbers, though, consider becoming an actuary (not an underwriter, an actuary). It’s clean, well-compensated, and has long rated number one or number two in job satisfaction surveys.

(The statistics above about STEM jobs are from a study to be found at http://cis.org/no-stem-shortage. The Center for Immigration Studies tends to be anti-immigration.)


Karen S said...

Breath easy, ladies, rest your pretty heads because there is no need to take hard classes now that the shortage of STEM workers has been disproved. What? While I appreciate this thought provoking post I think that two separate ideas are getting mixed up:
1) growing shortage of people to fill STEM jobs
2) lack of female representation in STEM jobs.
The Colonel seems to make the case that an overall shortage is not real. But the disproportionate male presence in STEM jobs compared to the general population is not addressed in the statistics. The lack of females in STEM jobs is a separate issue from any real or perceived shortage of workers. It is for societal health and well being that girls and women should enter into STEM fields alongside men. The workforce should reflect the general population.

Girls have been encouraged to enter STEM fields because women and women's perspectives are underrepresented there, and because studies showed that girls dropped their interest in science and math at a particular age for a variety of complex reasons. This drop off effectively limits the variety of perspectives and backgrounds among the workforce. That needed to change and still does.

Colonel, your beginning statement says that girls have been encouraged to enter STEM fields only because there is a perceived worker shortage. Me and my engineering career, and probably Grace Hopper and her cohorts, take great exception to that. Respectfully,

Bill Flood said...

Karen, I had a similar reaction reading this. Whether or not there's a shortage, the inequality needs to be addressed.

Two Hands Clapping said...

The Colonel speaking:

How nice to get comments. May I comment on comments?

1/ The reason I used to urge girls to "STEM the course" was that I wanted them to get jobs with the best pay and the most prestige, so they could be independent and socially powerful by their own efforts.

I mistakenly thought STEM workers were scarce and getting scarcer, so STEM wages would rise rapidly soon and in the long term, helping girls achieve those goals.

2/ It never crossed my mind to encourage individual girls and young women to go into STEM fields to make the gender ratios in those fields match that of the general population, or to diversify backgrounds and perspectives within the STEM workforce.

Why should anybody take any job except for love or money?

Choosing one's career in order to affect the gender ratios in subsections of the workforce strikes me as batty.

But as always, I could be wrong.