Thursday, April 25, 2013

EPI's report on STEM immigration numbers

The Economic Policy Institute is a liberal policy think tank; they've decided in recent years to take on H-1B visa and STEM immigration policy. They've come out with a fairly quantitative look at the STEM immigration debate recently and they've concluded three things (emphases by the authors):
Our examination of the IT labor market, guestworker flows, and the STEM education pipeline finds consistent and clear trends suggesting that the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations:
  • The flow of U.S. students (citizens and permanent residents) into STEM fields has been strong over the past decade, and the number of U.S. graduates with STEM majors appears to be responsive to changes in employment levels and wages.
  • For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.
  • In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.
As you can probably tell, not much time to blog recently, but I wanted to point this out. 

You should probably listen to the audio part of the presentation; it's a little dry, but it really hammers home the point that they're trying to make: that the scientific labor market acts like a market, and the reason that more people (especially domestic students) don't go into STEM fields (ugh, that term) is that the jobs and wages aren't there... and when they are, they do. 

Also, I want to point out the graduate student's comment at the end of the audio presentation (around 19 minutes) where he notes that if a STEM degree holder has a non-STEM job (which a lot of them don't), it represents a form of STEM underemployment -- and that doesn't get taken up in the STEM degree unemployment statistics. 


  1. The shortage myth is labor arbitrage.
    The cleverest part is how if someone makes waves, they are branded xenophobes or racists. This tactic is especially effective on academic types who live in immense fear of such labels. It's the modern day equivalent of being accused of witchcraft.

    You have to somewhat admire the think tanks: Dance my puppets!

  2. How high are these pressures though in comparison to any other country? People in Eastern Europe for example are feeling a need to emigrate right now, and doing so in droves (particularly skilled workers in general; not sure about figures on scientists). People in America clearly aren't feeling that need; the pressure is not as high. Most of/all the American scientists I know here in England came here not because they felt they needed to, but because they wanted to. Contrast that with the Eastern European scientists (admittedly I know fewer of them, despite immigration being easier) - many came here because they felt they couldn't get the same standard in their home country, unfortunately, and if they wanted a science job they felt the need to train and/or work elsewhere. Maybe it's not total and utter doom and gloom across the pond :)

    1. Canadian universities are staffed disproportionately with British professors.

    2. I think that's changing given the ACS is hosting International Employment Initiatives at the National Meetings these days. We've reached the point that we're trying to export chemists and there are still companies trying to convince congress there's a shortage. If only chemists had a group or society to provide a counter weight to the drumbeat of "we need more scientists." Which, let's face it, is really "we need more CHEAP scientists." This can be seen in the trend of companies forming alliances with universities as well- the only thing cheaper than an imported PhD is a grad student.

  3. Some might argue that by having an open immigrant policy, than we create a very highly competitive market for STEM workers in the US that weeds out the weak that should not have tech jobs anyway--they find jobs in other fields. This allows the very brightest and creative STEM workers to the top spots, and many of these individuals will form companies and create jobs for others.

    So the question I have is is it possible that by allowing anybody here into the US, might this be helpful for job creation in the long run, leading to an employment rate that is higher than countries that do not do this?

    I would think not, since I personally have seen very few in my field (biochem/ mol bio) who do form companies to make jobs. I dont think immigrants would be any better at this, they would just have fatter, happier families

    1. Actually what's happened is we've created a job market that underpays STEM skills. Why bother paying well and giving fringe benefits when there are so many more desperate for that job? This notion that the best and brightest will rise to the top ignores the fact that the best and the brightest will leave the field in frustration at the job market. And HR-bots don't screen for the best and the brightest. They screen for key words programmed by an HR person, not a scientist.

      The foreign students don't have student loans, and many have never lived in the city they're moving to and have no idea of the cost of living. $30K looks like a lot when you move from a country where that is a lot, until you realize how expensive it is to live in DC or San Fran.

  4. Interestingly, I've noticed a rapid and widespread effort to try to discredit the EPI stem report, sometimes focussing on irrelevant minutiae, other times trying to discredit the EPI or the authors as biased, or just saying that the majority of published opinions refutes it without addressing any of the points raised.