In "How to STEM Employment Concerns" (August '11, www.ControlDesign.com/STEM0811), I think you hit the nail on the head (at least partly) with comments about the volatility of STEM jobs. In a lot of companies, the first place they look to cut when things get tough financially is in the technical ranks, because those positions pay the most.
Where I live (near Schaumburg, Ill.) is "Motorola country." I can't even begin to recount the number of people I know with high-level math skills who have had their careers turned upside down over the past 10 years. Motorola has a great history and has had a huge impact globally, especially with Mikel Harry and his team developing Six Sigma; but it has not succeeded in providing "quality" jobs for its STEM employees.
What U.S. employers really want is the availability of cheap STEM skills; i.e., they want new college grads because they cost less. Consider for a moment what it costs to live in an area where there is a significant high-tech infrastructure:
- Typical housing runs $350K for a family of four. If you finance 80%, you carry a $280K mortgage. Assuming an interest rate of 6.5%, that's $18K a year just in interest. With the principal, figure $25K.
- Groceries, clothes, utilities, etc. roughly equal housing cost. That's another $25K.
- Property taxes on most homes in my neighborhood are now pushing $10K per year.
- If you buy a car every six years and spend $30K on it, you have to lay away $6K a year to afford it. It's at least $3K a year to keep it on the road.
- Add $5K annually to give to charity.
- The two kids will cost $120K apiece to put through college in 15 years. Figure $16K annually has to be put away for their educations.
- Social Security won't cover nearly what it does today, so the average person should put away at least $10K annually in their younger years, with hopes that they can catch up later.
So now we are up to $100K required to live the middle class lifestyle. To earn that, assuming a 35% tax rate (federal, state, social security, sales), the jobs have to pay at least $150K combined for the couple. Likely that means two working parents, which adds another $12K per child in daycare to the expenses. Now we are talking around $175K in combined income required to maintain a middle class lifestyle. That is more than $87K apiece.
I don't hear many employers itching to pay STEM grads $87K a year. They want to pay $45K-$50K a year. Now do you see why the bright kids are opting for law school?
John Tiessen, Global Materials & Applications Science,
Sun Chemical, www.sunchemical.com