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Packaging workforce data for public consumption

A 560-page report about the current state of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics employment and education can make for heavy reading—even for those eager to learn, for instance, the average salaries for occupations in various science and engineering fields. To share the results of this report—the 2014 release of the biennial Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI)—the National Science Board (NSB) has launched an interactive online resource that offers the data in the form of colorful graphs and maps addressing 64 central questions, such as “Who earns bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering?” and “How useful is S&E [science and engineering] education in preparing for the job market?”

While the data itself isn’t new—the most recent report was released in February—the site repackages the data, making some of it more accessible and more visual. In doing so, however, it seems to be applying a positive spin.

In 2010, just 35% of those with their highest degree in S&E worked in an S&E occupation.

For instance, one of the highlighted results is that S&E employment (NSB calls it, misleadingly, the S&E “workforce”) “has shown sustained growth for more than half a century.” That’s true enough, but the data presented show that S&E employment growth slowed dramatically at the end of that period. And while the percentage of women employed in computer science and math declined from 31% to 25% from 1993 to 2010, the site accentuates the positive, emphasizing the total number of women working in these areas, which, it says, has “nearly doubled” over this time. That language discounts the alarming widening of the computer science gender gap. 

In 2010, just 35% of those with their highest degree in S&E found S&E employment. Data show clearly that there are far too few in-field jobs for all the S&E graduates—for 180,000 or so annual S&E openings, U.S. colleges and universities supply about 500,000 graduates—but the NSB site again adds a positive spin, writing that “[t]he application of S&E knowledge and skills is widespread across the U.S. economy and is not limited to S&E occupations.”

While probably intended for journalists and the public, the site contains some useful information for current and aspiring members of the scientific community. Those considering a college major might want to know, for example, that among S&E graduates, engineers earn more than scientists do; next in line are mathematical and computer scientists. Those in health-related occupations earn the least, on average. And while average S&E earnings remain high—more than twice the average for all occupations—median earnings growth for life scientists, at 0.8% annually between 2009 and 2012, was well below the 1.5% annual growth rate for all occupations over that period. The new site also presents state-by-state S&E employment numbers, which may be useful for those looking to make a career move. Perhaps the most useful aspect of the site, however, is its direct links to the relevant areas of the SEI report, which make it easy to probe more deeply for those so inclined.

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