A common refrain among corporate and political leaders is that the U.S. needs more engineers, scientists and other workers with the kind of specialized expertise needed to boost economic growth. And that assessment plays a part in a range of public policy debates, from how to change the nation’s immigration laws to how to energize job-creation.
But new federal data suggest that idea is largely a myth, and it raises questions for students who are planning their careers. Roughly three-quarters of people who have a bachelor’s degree in science, technology, engineering and math — or so-called STEM fields — aren’t working in those professions, the U.S. Census Bureau said Thursday.
Citing statistics from its most recent American Community Survey, the bureau found that only about half of engineering, computer, math and statistics majors in the U.S. had jobs in their chosen field. Science grads fared even worse: Just 26 percent of physical science majors and 15 percent of those with a diploma in biology, environmental studies or agriculture were in a STEM-related occupation.
It’s worth noting that unemployment among people with STEM degrees is considerably lower than for the general population of workers. As of 2012 (the latest year with available data), only 3.6 percent of college graduates between the ages of 25 and 64 were without a job, according to the Census Bureau, compared with 6.1 percent for the broader U.S. workforce.
Yet those grads aren’t necessarily working in a STEM job, notes Liana Christin Landivar, a sociologist in the Census Bureau’s industry and occupation statistics branch.
Hal Salzman, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University, has calculated that twice as many STEM students graduate every year as are able to find jobs in their field. Some half a million grads with these degrees emerge from U.S. colleges and universities annually, and they must compete for roughly 180,000 job openings, he said in a 2013 article.
"Engineering has the highest rate at which graduates move into STEM occupations, but even here the supply is over 50 percent higher than the demand," he wrote. "[Information technology], the industry most vocal about its inability to find enough workers, hires only two-thirds of each year’s graduating class of bachelor’s degree computer scientists."