Even with the educational gap between minority and white students, it is not clear that this gap has led to an insufficient supply of workers in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics disciplines. This is one of the conclusions drawn by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based think tank, in a recently released study addressing the alleged shortage of STEM workers.
EPI’s main conclusion, that the United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations, draws into question claims from the private sector, Congress, and the White House, that America must revamp part of its immigration policy in order to meet the shortage in the STEM labor supply. In addition, minority students are making the necessary strides to prepare themselves for work in STEM areas after college.
Citing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, EPI notes that minority students are closing the gap in mathematics performance. For example, since 1973, Black and Hispanic nine year olds have seen math scores increase by 34 and 32 points respectively while White nine year olds as a group have seen math scores increase by 25 points. In the 17 year old age group, Blacks and Hispanics saw a 17 and 16 point increase in their math scores compared to White 17 year olds who saw their scores increase by four points since 1973. Improving math scores help spawn better prepared minority students who may choose to pursue STEM careers while in college.
The STEM work force represents only 4.4% of the total U.S. workforce and draws on the four percent of high school graduates that go on to get a STEM college degree. EPI observed, however, that even though STEM graduates represent a small proportion of all high school graduates that get college degrees, U.S. firms have access to the world’s largest supply of STEM students.
And that supply may be significant, significant enough to be referred to as an oversupply. According to EPI, the number of engineering and science students entering as college freshmen in 2003 was exceeded by the number of engineering and science students graduating six years later. For STEM graduates, the supply of graduates exceeds the number hired each year by at least two to one, depending on the specific STEM area. In engineering, colleges have historically graduated 50% more students than students actually hired after the first year of graduation.
So what’s keeping our domestic supply of STEM graduates from entering the STEM workforce? Part of the answer may be due to an unwillingness of domestic companies to hire homegrown talent. Citing statistics for the National Center for Education Statistics, EPI found that 52.7% of computer and information sciences graduates not working in their STEM fields a year out of school had concerns with pay, promotion, or working conditions. Almost 32% of these graduates were not working because jobs were not available.
The proportion of engineering and engineering technology graduates not working in their fields one year after graduation due to concerns about pay, promotion, or working conditions was 31.3%, while 30.2% of these graduates said they were not working because no jobs were available.
In light of this quantitative data, can the argument that workers are nowhere to be found hold up much longer or is this shortage of supply simply code for we won’t hire domestic talent at the higher wage levels demanded? The private sector, Congress, and the White House may need a stronger quantitative defense for their position.