The media gave Education Secretary Arne Duncan a free pass last week, when he testified before Congress that a DREAM Act amnesty was necessary because there aren't enough U.S. workers to fill available jobs.
According to McClatchy Newspapers, "Duncan said it's contrary to the national interest to keep these young people in legal limbo, as there are more than 2 million high-skill job openings that must be filled....'We need to work to fill those jobs,' Duncan said."
In his written testimony, Duncan clarified that the job openings "that must be filled" are estimates from a Georgetown study that predicts a labor shortage in the year 2018. Those jobs, if they come available, are seven years away. Still, Duncan spoke of "significant shortages in STEM jobs" and claimed "the DREAM Act would put us one step closer toward filling these shortfalls."
Numerous studies, reports, testimony, and statistics scoff at any notion of a STEM worker shortage (I've blogged about them here and here), but none of them were included in mainstream media stories that reported on Duncan's testimony. The non-partisan Urban Institute analyzed the STEM labor market in 2007, before the recession, and concluded that "the United States’ education system produces a supply of qualified [science and engineering] graduates in much greater numbers than jobs available."
In his testimony before Congress in the same year, the Vice President of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation stated unequivocally:
First, no one who has come to the question with an open mind has been able to find any objective data suggesting general 'shortages' of scientists and engineers….
....So why, you might ask, do you continue to hear energetic re-assertions of the Conventional Portrait of “shortages”, shortfalls, failures of K-12 science and math teaching, declining interest among US students, and the necessity of importing more foreign scientists and engineers? In my judgment, what you are hearing is simply the expressions of interests by interest groups and their lobbyists.
Few reporters challenge absurd claims like Duncan's, leaving many Americans uninformed about the crisis American STEM workers face. The law of supply and demand holds as true for programmers as it does for construction workers; it doesn't distinguish between employment competition from legal or illegal workers. The more excess labor in a given industry, the greater the amount of exploitative employment which lowers wages.
Special interest lobbyists use "labor shortage" scare tactics for employment sectors at the high and low ends of the employment spectrum. For them, there's no such thing as excess labor.
Dan Rather Reports has done an outstanding job investigating U.S. policies that allow workers to be imported, even in a jobless recovery, to compete directly with Americans for jobs. Read four of the displaced personal stories here. Rather also profiles a foreign worker who came to the U.S. on an H-1b visa but discovered he was being paid half as much as his American co-workers. Unscrupulous employers often prefer foreign and younger workers because they will work for lower wages than older, more experienced Americans. And when the young STEM replacements grow older and more expensive, they face the same challenges as the Americans they displaced.
Secretary Duncan would have Congress add over 2 million new workers into the labor force to close a labor gap that exists only in a theoretical future, if at all. In the real world, 200,000 unemployed tech workers face the consequences of our misguided immigration policies. Duncan's disingenuous testimony aside, no evidence exists that most "DREAM" students would go into STEM fields. Regardless of their chosen field, they would be competing in a loose labor market that already has an excess of available American workers. According to Investor's Business Daily, 30 million Americans can't find a full time job.
In a era of sustained high unemployment, reporters should at least be willing to question dubious claims of labor shortages.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Jul 8th 2011 @ 10:19am EDT