National Data | Why More Immigrant Science, Technology, Engineering, Math Graduates When So Many American STEM Graduates Are Unemployed?

That we need more foreign students in high-tech fields is taken a given, even among otherwise sensible immigration-patriot politicians. Michael Barone recently gloated about the so-called “Auto Green” drive to increase green cards for foreign graduates at U.S universities:

“And it appears that the chairman of the full Judiciary Committee, Lamar Smith of Texas, is interested. This is noteworthy because Smith has been an implacable opponent of any bill containing legalization or amnesty provisions.

But Smith agrees that it is a travesty not to admit STEM [science, technology, engineering, math] graduates educated at American universities who want to apply their talents in this country.”

Congress says yes to high-skill immigrants, by Michael Barone, Washington Examiner, October 18, 2011

Dr. Norm Matloff, a long-time skeptic about Big Business (and Big Ed) support for high tech immigration, just neatly exposed their self-interested motivations in a satirical counter-proposal:

 “Deem any new foreign STEM grad degree holder as "best and brightest" if the employer's offered salary is in the top 5% of all new grads in that student's field and degree level”

That is, if the employer wants to pay them more than Americans, it would be because they’re good engineers. However, if the employer, as now, wants to pay them less than Americans, then they’re cheap labor.

Our humble question: why do we need more unemployed?

Historically unemployment rates among science and engineering graduates have been lower than those of other college-educated workers, and considerably below workers with less than a BA. Census Bureau population surveys for the 1983 to 2008 period indicate, for example, that unemployment in Science and Engineering (S&E) occupations ranged from 1.3% to 4.0%, while rates for all workers with a BA or higher ranged from 1.8% to 7.8%, and unemployment for all workers ranged from 4.0% to 9.6%.

Enter the Great Recession. Initially the long-term trends held: in 2008 college educated S&E workers had lower unemployment rates (2.1%) than all college graduates (2.8 %.)

In the 3 month period ending in September 2009—the latest data available—unemployment among science and engineering workers rose to 5.5%, That’s slightly above the rate for all college graduates (5.4%.)

Unemployment among electrical engineers (EE) and computer scientists (CS) was even higher in the second quarter of 2009: 8.6% for EEs, and 5.7% for CSs.

Overall unemployment in 2009: 9.3%.

The American Chemical Society reports that almost 4% of its members were unemployed in early 2011. That’s less than half the national rate (9.5 %), but it’s the highest unemployment among ACS members in 20 years.

Even more troubling: the catastrophic joblessness among new graduates, currently about 15% for BS grads and 9% for new PhDs in chemistry. [ACS Councilor’s Report, Spring 2011, PDF]

New graduates have always competed among themselves for good jobs. In the wake of Great Recession, they compete with a larger pool of laid-off workers as well as retirees who lost their savings and must re-enter the labor force—and, of course, immigrants.

Significantly, even in good times, Science and engineering PhDs have experienced difficulty finding jobs in their chosen fields:

 

Science and Engineering PhDs: Unemployment and Involuntary out-of-field employment rates, 2006

Selected Field

Unemployment

Involuntary out-of-field employment

Total Displacement (a)

Science

1.6%

3.5%

5.1%

Biological, agricultural and environmental sciences

1.6%

2.9%

4.5%

Computer and information sciences

1.1%

1.6%

2.7%

Mathematics and statistics

1.3%

4.6%

5.9%

Chemistry, except biochemistry

2.8%

4.6%

7.4%

Physics

2.5%

10.0%

12.5%

Psychology

1.1%

1.4%

2.5%

Social sciences

1.1%

3.6%

4.7%

Sociology

0.6%

3.6%

4.2%

Engineering

1.6%

3.7%

5.3%

Health

1.0%

0.7%

1.7%

a. Percent of the field’s labor force unemployed or involuntarily working out of field.

Data source: National Science Foundation. Characteristics of Doctoral Scientists and Engineers in the United States: 2006 (Table 4.)

In words: At the peak of the boom, in 2006 when overall unemployment was just 4.6%, some 1.6% of all science PhDs (some 8,800 people) were out of work, and another 3.5% were forced to take non-science jobs.

Amazingly, PhDs in hard sciences such as Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and engineering, were more likely to be displaced (unemployed or unable to find work in their field) than PhDs in psychology, economics, political science, sociology, and other social sciences.

 Congressman Smith—and his fellow high-tech immigration enthusiasts—might argue that native-born S&E PhDs are the ones most likely to be unemployed because they are most likely to be competing against those foreign-born geniuses. Everyone knows “Johnny can’t do Math,” right?

Try telling that to newly minted Physics doctorates—American and foreign-born:

 

Employment status of physics PhDs in the year after receiving their degree

(Classes of 2007 and 2008)

 

US Citizens (%)

Foreign citizens (%)

Overall %

Postdoc

49

61

56

Potentially permanent

39

27

33

Other temporary

8

7

7

Unemployed

4

5

4

Source: American Institute of Physics Focus On Physics Doctorates: One Year Later. PDF

 

Joblessness among newly minted foreign PhDs (5%) was actually higher than that of their U.S. born counterparts (4%). Average U.S. unemployment through this period: 7.6%

Moreover, unemployment rates are not the sole job market indicator. Underemployment is far more prevalent than unemployment. And it is a better indicator of just how unnecessary foreign students are.

More than three-fifths of foreign-born PhDs in physics accepted “postdoc” positions in recent years, compared to less than half of citizens. To an outsider, “postdoc” might sound like an exalted rung of academe. It is not. To most young PhDs it is a holding position, a temporary research gig one does until a real job comes along. Only 27% of new foreign physics PhDs find real “potentially permanent” positions.

But to the university, postdocs provide an almost limitless supply of low wage workers. The huge influx of foreign students reduces academic payrolls by billions of dollars annually—transferring wealth from workers to Big Education management.

All this, and immigrant impacted income depression too: American STEM salaries are surprisingly low—also in part because of immigration, one reason Johnny, quite rationally, won’t do STEM.

No wonder Big Business and Big Ed like immigration.

But what’s Barone’s reason?