STEM Work Force Shrinking in U.S.

Oct 23, 2007

Following years of strong demand in the United States for trained science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professionals, the STEM share of all U.S. employment has dropped to levels last seen during the mid-‘90s, according to a report by the Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology.

The report finds that since 2001, STEM professionals have accounted for a declining share of total employment in the United States. The nation’s scientific and technical work force is still growing, but it is now lagging behind the growth of the U.S. labor force as a whole.

“For years we’ve heard alarm bells from all sectors about the supply side of the STEM work force,” says Lisa Frehill, executive director of CPST. “This report calls for a critical shift of our attention to the demand side of the equation. We must consider why certain occupations are not faring well domestically and the impact that might have on the nation’s long-term economic outlook.”

The report, Is U.S. Science and Technology Adrift?, assesses the present condition of employment and compensation in STEM occupations and examines the status of science in the U.S.

Highlights include:

• In 2006, STEM professionals accounted for 5.0% of all employed civilians in the U.S., down from 5.6% in both 2000 and 2001.

• There was a recovery of growth for mechanical engineers between 2003 and 2006, but employment in industrial engineering continued to decline.

• Between 1995 and 2002, information technology employment rose 75% faster than the rate of job growth for the general economy, but compensation scales for IT workers did not rise much above the modest improvement of about 7.7% in real income that applied to all employed persons.
• IT jobs account for more than 42% of all STEM employment, but the 1990’s boom in IT jobs has ended.

• Within the three professions tied to the chemical industry, employment losses continued between 2003 and 2006, although losses in compensation declined for chemical technicians, and pay scales improved for chemists.

• Two larger STEM occupations have done well in recent years: aerospace engineering and medical scientists. Both of these occupations enjoyed above-average growth in employment between 2003 and 2006.

So is U.S. science and technology adrift? “Of course it is,” says Richard Ellis, the report’s author. “Given the decentralized nature of scientific and technical activity, public policy does not reflect all the concerns and issues that matter in maintaining the general scientific capabilities of the United States.”

Steps could be taken to improve the outlook for U.S. science and technology, the report notes, explaining that the most obvious move is to address the disconnects in federal STEM policy, which has yet to come to grips with issues like offshoring and the use of guest workers. In addition, STEM-wide initiatives to help raise the visibility and influence of the scientific and technical professions are recommended.

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