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News from EPI EPI analysis finds no shortage of STEM workers in the United States

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In a new EPI paper, Hal Salzman of Rutgers, Daniel Kuehn of American University and B. Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University find little evidence to support expansion of high-skill guestworker programs as proposed in the immigration bill being debated in the Senate. Contrary to many industry claims, the study finds that U.S. colleges and universities provide an ample supply of highly qualified science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) graduates.

In Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market, the authors examine the IT labor market, guestworker flows and the STEM pipeline, and conclude that the United States has more than a sufficient supply of STEM workers available.

Key findings include:

  • Guestworkers may be filling as many as half of all new IT jobs each year
  • IT workers earn the same today as they did, generally, 14 years ago
  • Currently, only one of every two STEM college graduates is hired into a STEM job each year
  • Policies that expand the supply of guestworkers will discourage U.S. students from going into STEM, and into IT in particular

“The debate over guestworker programs is largely based on anecdotal evidence and testimonials from employers, rather than solid evidence,” said Salzman. “Our examination shows that the STEM shortage in the United States is largely overblown. Guestworker programs are in need of reform, but any changes should make sure that guestworkers are not lower-paid substitutes for domestic workers.”

Despite a steady supply of U.S. STEM graduates, guestworkers make up a large and growing portion of the workforce, specifically in information technology occupations and industries. IT employers look to guestworker programs as a source of labor that is plentiful even at wages that appear to be too low to attract large numbers of the best and brightest domestic students.

Salzman is a professor in the E.J. Bloustein School of Planning & Public Policy and Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.  Lowell is Director of Policy Studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University and Kuehn is a doctoral candidate in American University’s Department of Economics.