The STEM Surplus

Robert Charette thinks the much-discussed shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates is a myth:

[N]early two-thirds of the STEM job openings in the United States, or about 180,000 jobs per year, will require bachelor’s degrees. Now, if you apply the Commerce Department’s definition of STEM to the NSF’s annual count of science and engineering bachelor’s degrees, that means about 252,000 STEM graduates emerged in 2009. So even if all the STEM openings were entry-level positions and even if only new STEM bachelor’s holders could compete for them, that still leaves 70,000 graduates unable to get a job in their chosen field.

Of course, the pool of U.S. STEM workers is much bigger than that:

It includes new STEM master’s and Ph.D. graduates (in 2009, around 80,000 and 25,000, respectively), STEM associate degree graduates (about 40,000), H-1B visa holders (more than 50,000), other immigrants and visa holders with STEM degrees, technical certificate holders, and non-STEM degree recipients looking to find STEM-related work. And then there’s the vast number of STEM degree holders who graduated in previous years or decades.

More evidence:

What’s perhaps most perplexing about the claim of a STEM worker shortage is that many studies have directly contradicted it, including reports from Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Rand Corp. A 2004 Rand study, for example, stated that there was no evidence “that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.”

That report argued that the best indicator of a shortfall would be a widespread rise in salaries throughout the STEM community. But the price of labor has not risen, as you would expect it to do if STEM workers were scarce.

(Hat tip: Libby A. Nelson)