(My first dairy, so comments are appreciated!)
Via Slashdot, it's time for the periodic debate over whether the US economy has too few workers in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). I actually dislike the STEM construct, as I think it tries to envelope many very different types of jobs and careers that have very different trajectories, prospects, and employment demand. But it is the construct used by companies that complain of a supposed lack of prospective employees to push increased STEM education and more annual H-1B "skilled" visa issuances.
The argument that there is indeed a STEM worker shortage seems to always rely on the observation that the unemployment rate for STEM graduates is and remains low, and indeed it is. However, I think that this statistic can belie what is really going on. Mainly, I think that looking at employment rates does not account for STEM field graduates working in jobs that do not require their education, such as service/retail jobs.
However, supply and demand applies to the labor market just like any other market, and if such a critical shortage of STEM workers did indeed exist one would expect to see employers increase their pay offers to both recruit and keep STEM workers. Over at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, wages by general occupational categories are tracked. I did a quick and dirty plot of median inflation-adjusted wages for general STEM categories tracked by the BLS, which shows the following:
I suspect two things: First, I think that employers in STEM fields enjoy keeping the STEM labor market flush with new, fresh entrants in order to keep salaries in check (you know what they do to engineers when they turn 40, right?). Second, I think that pressure to keep H-1B visa issuances up helps STEM employers as well, since foreign workers tend to be less mobile (in the sense that it is difficult for them to jump ship to another employer) and are therefore more tolerant of overwork and undercompensation, lest they have to leave the country.
In other words, the people saying there is a shortage of STEM workers have plausible ulterior motives to claim that there is, even if there isn't. That, at least, should give everyone cause for healthy skepticism.