Jeremy Beck's Picture

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  by  Jeremy Beck

....Interest groups that are well organized and funded have the capacity to make their claims heard by [Congress], either directly or via echoes in the mass press. Meanwhile those who are not well organized and funded can express their views, but only as individuals.

- Congressional testimony of Michael S. Teitelbaum, Vice President, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, November 6, 2007.

Journalists should: Give voice to the voiceless.

- Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.

Just before the 2008 recession, Michael Teitelbaum of the Sloan Foundation (dedicated to the education of science and technology in America) bluntly told the House Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation that there is no shortage of scientists and engineers in America's educational pipeline. Teitelbaum further charged that the press too often echoed the industry lobbyists' "shortage" claims while ignoring the substantial body of evidence to the contrary. Four years later, the mainstream media is still proving Teitelbaum right.

Two recent stories in the New York Times illustrate how the media unquestioningly accepts industry claims while ignoring contrary evidence and excluding dissenting voices from its stories. As Teitelbaum testified, professional scientists, engineers, and students pursuing those fields lack the organization and funding that the employers, universities and immigration lawyers who perpetuate "shortage" claims enjoy. Although the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics requires reporters to "give voice to the voiceless," those missing "voices" rarely include American workers who are often portrayed, at least indirectly, in the media as either too lazy or too dumb to do the economy's essential jobs.

In Beyond 2012 Field, Nuanced G.O.P. Views on Immigrants (October 28, 2011) and Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard) (November 4, 2011), the New York Times reporters build their stories on the false assumption that the U.S. lacks students and professionals pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields - an industry claim echoed by the Obama administration. These stories do not acknowledge the numerous studies, including one from the RAND corporation, that show a crisis of surplus workers. It isn't more workers the country needs but more jobs.

As Teitelbaum predicted, reporters quote numerous people representing university interests. One dean suggests the U.S. needs more foreign workers to take U.S. jobs in order to facilitate innovation and entrepreneurship -- another dubious claim, refuted by studies including this one from the Center for Immigration Studies that indicate American-born workers have the same rate of entrepreneurship as immigrants. Nevertheless, the university dean's implication that Americans aren't smart or hard-working enough to start their own businesses is left unchallenged.

In "Into the Eye of the Storm: Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand," the non-partisan Urban Institute concludes that the "United States’ education system produces a supply of qualified [science and engineering] graduates in much greater numbers than jobs available." But you won't find their study or any like it in these New York Times stories. Instead, the Times points to a high percentage of advance degrees in science and math going to foreign students, without noting that some universities are paid up to $15,000 annually by the federal government every time they admit a foreign graduate hi-tech graduate student.

The Times has at least one thing correct: many students do eventually leave the STEM pipeline for careers in other fields. There are many reasons behind these moves and the Times explores some of them but gives no thought to how diminished job opportunities, turn-over, and stagnating wages (all signs of a labor surplus) lead many to pursue stable careers in more lucrative and fields.

The public isn't buying the industry claims.

In a poll conducted by the Washington Post and Bloomberg News, adult Americans were asked: "Some U.S. companies say they can’t find enough highly-skilled Americans to fill jobs. One proposal is to increase the number of visas for foreign workers with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering so they can fill those jobs in the U.S. Do you support or oppose this idea?" Americans opposed the idea 59 percent to 31 percent.

Americans probably don't oppose importing brilliant minds to fill specific needs. Most Americans, however, know that we already have more workers (citizens and legal immigrants) than we have jobs, no matter what the media claims. More than 300,000 computer scientists and engineers are unemployed across the United States. More are leaving the field because they see no future in it.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

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