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Who Perpetuates the STEM Crisis Myth?


According to Robert Charette, author of "The STEM Crisis is a Myth," (IEEE Spectrum, August 30, 2013), The STEM crisis myth (often used by advocates for the Senate immigration bill) is not unique to the United States. The myth has gone global.

"There is this feeling, one, that everybody is falling behind everybody else in the world," Charette explained in an interview about his article. From the U.S. to China to India and beyond, Charette writes, "the predicted shortfall of STEM (short for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) workers is supposed to number in the hundreds of thousands or even the millions.

Yet wages aren't rising in any way that would suggest a shortage.

In the U.S. alone, evidence contrary to a STEM labor shortage has been around for decades. So why does the myth persist? Charette writes:

Clearly, powerful forces must be at work to perpetuate the cycle. One is obvious: the bottom line. Companies would rather not pay STEM professionals high salaries with lavish benefits, offer them training on the job, or guarantee them decades of stable employment. So having an oversupply of workers, whether domestically educated or imported, is to their benefit. It gives employers a larger pool from which they can pick the "best and the brightest," and it helps keep wages in check. No less an authority than Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, said as much when in 2007 he advocated boosting the number of skilled immigrants entering the United States so as to "suppress" the wages of their U.S. counterparts, which he considered too high.

Governments also push the STEM myth because an abundance of scientists and engineers is widely viewed as an important engine for innovation and also for national defense. And the perception of a STEM crisis benefits higher education, says Ron Hira, because as "taxpayers subsidize more STEM education, that works in the interest of the universities" by allowing them to expand their enrollments.

In other words, those who benefit from an oversupply of STEM labor have more political power and influence than U.S. STEM workers who are harmed.

The beneficiaries of a STEM surplus have a similar advantage over STEM workers when it comes to influencing the media and Congress as those who benefit from suppressed wages for landscapers, nannies, and other household employees have over their fellow Americans who work in those occupations. They simply have more money and with that greater access to media and politicians.

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

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