Chief executives regularly come through Washington, D.C., complaining that they can’t find qualified American workers trained in science, technology, engineering and math — what’s referred to as STEM. And armed with this argument, lobbyists are pushing for more temporary work visas, known as H-1Bs.
But not everyone agrees. A study released by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute reinforces what a number of researchers have come to believe: The STEM worker shortage is a myth.
The study found 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 information technology industry.
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The study said that while the overall number of U.S. students who earn STEM degrees is small, it’s more important to focus on what happens to these students after they graduate.
According to the study, they have a surprisingly hard time finding work. Only half the students graduating from college with a STEM degree are hired into a STEM job, the study said.
“Even in engineering,” the authors said, “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.”