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OP-ED: STEM-ing Unemployment

January 23, 2012

STEM-ing Unemployment, by Ted Wells:

For most voters, the driving factor determining their vote on Election Day 2012 will be the state of our country’s unemployment numbers. President Obama’s success or failure in November will depend on whether or not voters perceive his policies as successful in ameliorating the joblessness caused by the 2007-2009 recession. Presidential candidates would be well served to favor policies that create more jobs in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The Science and Engineering Indicators Report released this week by the National Science Foundation (NSF) finds that STEM jobs offer a much healthier employment picture than the rest of the economy. Based on three distinct data sets, the NSF report finds that STEM jobs are more plentiful, have a less volatile employment cycle and pay better than the rest of the workforce.


STEM jobs are more stable than jobs in other professions. Data gathered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics between 1983 and 2010 reveals that unemployment rates for workers in the STEM fields ranged from 1.3 to 4.3 percent whereas workers in other professions had rates between 4.0 and 9.6 percent during that time. In other words, if you work in a STEM profession, your chances of being unemployed are 50 to 60 percent less than for all other workers.


Recovery arrived much more quickly in the STEM fields following the Great Recession and unemployment was less severe. In 2008, during the recession’s early stages, workers Science and Engineering as well as Computer Programming and Technician fields had lower unemployment rates at 2.1 and 3.9 percent, respectively, compared to all workers at 5.8 percent. That means that workers in non-STEM fields were anywhere 1.5 to 3 times as likely to be unemployed than workers in other professions. As the recession ran its course through the American labor market, unemployment in STEM fields rose to 4.3 and 7.0 percent compared to 9.3 percent for the total economy.


Median earnings for workers in STEM fields, regardless of education level or field, were $75,820, nearly double those of workers in other fields at $33,840. Bottom line: it pays to get a STEM degree. Workers with 15-19 years of experience after college in STEM fields earned $65,000 compared to $49,000 for those in other fields according to a 2003 study cited in the report.

It is critical that we learn lessons from the recession and that we respond with substantive action to the reality that we are now competing in a global economy with formidable peers. Advances in technology and the political willingness to dedicate resources to STEM jobs have given other countries like China, South Korea and Germany an advantage over the United States in talent. Based on the experiences of the last few years, we have clear data that demonstrates that STEM jobs are not only critical for our country’s economic future in terms of competitiveness but also in terms of the prosperity and continued stability of America’s workers and their families.

Ted Wells
Associate Director for Strategic Partnerships
Washington, DC

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