Ignore the hype. There are few shortages of skilled workers in America.

Summary: The shortage of STEM workers is a zombie myth too politically useful to die. But here’s data that should kill it. Worse, it implies we might soon see a surplus of highly educated workers, undercutting the more education as a solution to automation story. We’ll need to consider more radical ideas.

“While there are over 500,000 computing jobs currently unfilled in the U.S., only 42,969 computer science students graduated from U.S. universities into the workforce last year.”

— “Computer Science in K-12 Classrooms” by the Computer Science Education Coalition, one of the many lobbying groups funded by corporations to ensure cheap labor. Median wages for people with PhDs in computer science were $121,300 in 2013, down 7% from 2008. There is no shortage, even in this hottest of fields.

Wages show the supply & demand for people with Ph.D.s.
Their wages are falling, so there is no shortage.

Data on PhD holders jobs and salaries, from WSJ

For years corporations and their paid propagandists at think-tanks have bombarded us with news about the shortage of workers in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), which will cripple America in the 21st century. Looking to the future, we’re told growth in these fields would offset some of the massive unemployment from automation.

Oddly, despite the ludicrously high numbers of unfilled jobs reported, wages in these fields have not been rapidly rising (excerpt in a few hot specialties, as it takes time for students to graduate into them). Has the law of supply and demand been repealed? No, since not only is there no shortage, but even Ph.D.s in these fields are in excess supply and seeking employment in other fields, or at jobs in their field not requiring their level of training.

Worse, the data suggests that in the future we might have an oversuppy of highly educated workers (the large surplus of attorneys might be the exemplar of what’s to come).

What we see here is corporations using the news media and government to ensure an ample supply of cheap skilled workers. An entire movement has been built on this fake story.

Here’s the latest of the articles presenting the facts about higher education in the second decade of the 21st century.

Job-Seeking Ph.D. Holders Look to Life Outside School
by Douglas Belkin in the Wall Street Journal
“New doctorate holders are grappling with dwindling employment prospects.”

“…The percentage of new doctorate recipients without jobs or plans for further study climbed to 39% in 2014 from 31% in 2009, according to a National Science Foundation survey released in April. Median salaries for midcareer Ph.D.s working full time fell 6% between 2010 and 2013.

“The reason: supply and demand. Production of doctorates in the U.S. climbed 28% in the decade ending in 2014 to an all-time high of 54,070. That surge has come as more Americans see a postgraduate degree as a hedge against stagnating wages and unemployment in an economy demanding increasingly specific skills and expertise.

“Meanwhile, the academic job market — the largest employer of Ph.D.s — continues to wither as many universities move away from the model of only employing tenured professors and toward using greater numbers of relatively lowly paid adjunct teachers.

“In addition, critical pockets of public and private funding that have traditionally supported jobs for doctorate holders in their research fields have dwindled. The pharmaceuticals industry, for example — the largest employer of chemists in the country — has moved much of its research overseas, shedding 300,000 jobs in the U.S. in recent years. Salaries for chemists with Ph.D.s fell 12% between 2004 and 2014, according to the American Chemical Society.

“…Michael Teitelbaum, who studies the scientific workforce as a senior adviser to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that supports research in education {said} ‘When you can import an international workforce or outsource research, you have a buyer’s market.’

“…their median incomes have been falling. Computer scientists earned $121,300 in 2013, down from $129,839 in 2008; engineers saw a drop to $120,000 from $125,511 and social scientists fell to $85,000 from $90,887.

“…The decline in full-time hiring in universities has resulted in tens of thousands of Ph.D. holders teaching classes for around $3000 each without benefits. …

“As a result, many graduate students are considering careers outside the academy or their research field. This has led to credential inflation as Ph.D.s fill jobs traditionally held by professionals without such lofty degrees. For instance the number of Ph.D.s applying to teach at private high schools has jumped between 10% and 20% over the last five years, according to Devereaux McLatchey, president of Carney, Sandoe & Associates which is one of the nation’s largest recruiters for private high schools.

“…Production of doctorates in the U.S. climbed 28% in the decade ending in 2014 to an all-time high of 54,070. …”

Skills: only useful if there are jobs.
Skills: only useful if there are jobs.

Another perspective: corps use H1-B visas to depress wages

Not content with shipping jobs overseas and pushing to generate a surplus of workers in America, corporations import more workers to depress wages in skilled fields:

The H1-B Visas Don’t Help American STEM Graduates
By Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Wall Street Journal
“It’s a myth that there is a shortage of qualified Americans to fill jobs in STEM.”

“…To support your belief that American workers should receive no protections, you recycle the myth that there is a shortage of qualified Americans to fill jobs in STEM—science, technology, engineering and math—and then demand more guest workers as substitutes. Your evidence for this claim is that the government “received a record 233,000 requests from American business for the 85,000 H-1B visas available.” But the only thing this statistic proves is that companies prefer low-wage, bonded guest workers over higher-paid Americans.

“Each year, the U.S. graduates twice as many students with STEM degrees as are hired in STEM occupations. Contrary to the suggestion that these students are finding better, higher-paying jobs, the opposite is true. About 35% of science students, 55% of technology students, 20% of engineering students and 30% of math students who recently graduated are now working in jobs that don’t require any four-year college degree. As further proof of no shortage, wages in the profitable IT industry have been largely flat for more than a decade.

“Yet despite the enormous supply of job-seeking Americans, two-thirds of entry-level hires in the tech industry are now going to foreign workers.

“That is because the H-1B visa is not a high-skilled immigration program. It operates as a low-wage nonimmigrant temporary visa, undercutting the jobs and wages of highly qualified Americans. Just recently, Southern California Edison laid off hundreds of loyal employees and forced them to train the H-1B guest workers hired to replace them. One of those replaced American workers was a mother with a physical disability caring for two children. …”


We find it difficult to prepare for the future because we cannot clearly see the present through all the lies we are told.

There are no broad shortages of skilled workers in America (the slow growth of wages in almost every field shows that). Worse, there are already signs of surpluses in many kinds of workers with both undergraduate and advanced degrees — so that ramping up education is unlikely to compensate for the jobs lost in the coming wave of automation.

We need to begin considering more radical solutions. Such as ways to generate faster economic growth and jobs, and support those that lose their jobs. We have dealt with the severe transitions of previous industrial revolutions, and can do so with this one. Keep our eyes open, our minds clear, and stand together.

Other articles about the STEM “crisis”

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12 thoughts on “Ignore the hype. There are few shortages of skilled workers in America.”

  1. Pingback: Weekend Reading: Fed Loses Control | RIA

  2. “We need to begin….”
    It’s that we that concerns me. One should minus out those people who are running the Corps who like to see rising P on a Quarterly basis. And are set on doing so on the backs of declining wages.
    They just won’t be in the group of we doing anything different. And they seem like maybe a sort of Gatekeeper.
    Yes some radical things will need to be considered soon and actually awhile back, too,


    1. Breton,

      “One should minus out those people who are running the Corps who like to see rising P on a Quarterly basis. And are set on doing so on the backs of declining wages.”

      The foundation of our free market system is competition among different groups, such as employers and workers. It’s been proved far superior than all other systems.

      The current imbalance between wages and profits results from reversal of the New Deal reforms, a project designed to produce these specific results. Restoring and reforming those will help a lot, at least give us a firm basis to consider the more radical measures necessary to cope with the new industrial revolution.

  3. Well, yes. Well said.
    My point still stands. Re establishing a better balance will not just happen by “we” sitting down and agreeing, handshake and done. Generational efforts and serious pressure and major disruptions were the elements of a New Deal. It sure wasn’t consensual, as far as my readings take me.
    So again that will probably be needed. And as you say…..then the radical measures may arise.
    But thx.


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  9. My perception of the hype around a skilled jobs shortage is that it is around skilled trades rather than STEM jobs– plumbers, welders, electricians, machinists, etc.

    1. Andrew,

      I’ve heard those stories for 30 years. Odd that wages for these jobs haven’t been zooming. I don’t have data, but I’ll suspect that the collapse of unions means that the median real wages for those jobs has dropped. Perhaps dropped a lot.

      Complaints about shortages in broad job categories almost always are complaints about lack of high-quality cheap labor, preferable on call just when I want them. The exception: there are always shortages in narrow high-growth areas, due to the lag between demand and production of new trained people. These are often seen in bubbles, followed by the jokes. In the 1970’s “What do you call an aerospace engineer? Waiter!” In the 1980s, “What do you call a geotech engineer? …”

      My guess (emphasis on guess) is that the collapse of the internet bubble will put hordes of these technicians on the unemployment lines. The handful of profitable firms continue to grow and make all the money, but the large numbers are employed by firms losing money — sustained by investors’ dreams.

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