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Two Funny Things That Happened on the Way to the STEM Skills Shortage

For years, certain lobbyists and public relations types have been promoting the idea that the United States doesn't have enough workers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In the last few days, two funny things have occurred that are relevant to this ongoing debate.

Funny thing #1 is a drop in the average starting salaries of new college graduates with computer science, engineering, and chemistry degrees, according to the latest annual survey, which was published on 8 January by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The changes—0.2%, 0.1% and 0.4%, respectively, for the three fields—are "miniscule" and "subject to sampling variation," notes computer science professor, technical labor force expert, and statistician Norman Matloff, but they "certainly doesn't jibe with the industry lobbyists' claims of a desperate labor shortage." Nor does the rise of just 1.1% in the starting salaries of new math and science grads, a category that, in the survey data, includes chemistry but not engineering or computer science. This performance seems especially dismal when you consider that overall starting salaries rose by 2.6%. In the humanities and social sciences, starting salaries increased by 2.9%.

"If we have a desperate STEM labor shortage, why do these students need a year to find a job?" —Norman Matloff

Funny thing #2 is an amendment offered by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) that would provide a green card to any foreign student earning a STEM degree in the United States. Moran wants this provision, which could add as many as 50,000 people to the ranks of the nation's jobseekers, to be tacked on to the bill extending benefits for the long-term unemployed. "Even more ironically," Matloff notes, "Moran's green cards would be conditional on the foreign student finding work within a year. If we have a desperate STEM labor shortage, why do these students need a year to find a job?" Maybe some of the nation's nearly 4 million long-term unemployed—some of them scientists and engineers laid off from large pharma and tech companies—can explain.