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Commerce Department Touts Promise of STEM Careers

David A. Kronig
Number 98 - August 2, 2011  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) issued a report last month that found significant benefits to pursuing jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines. On average, workers in STEM jobs across all levels of educational attainment earn more money and experience lower unemployment when compared with workers in non-STEM jobs.

The report’s authors, David Langdon, George McKittrick, David Beede, Beethika Khan, and Mark Doms, in ESA’s Office of the Chief Economist, “define STEM jobs to include professional and technical support occupations in the fields of computer science and mathematics, engineering, and life and physical sciences. Three management occupations are also included because of their clear ties to STEM.

Across all levels of educational achievement, the authors found a significant premium for workers in STEM jobs. Even after running a regression to control for a variety of demographic, geographic, and other characteristics, the authors found a significant advantage to working in STEM fields. Workers with less than a bachelor’s degree earned more than 30 percent more in STEM fields than in non-STEM fields. For those with a bachelor’s degree, the regression-based premium was 23 percent, and for those with a graduate degree, the premium was 12 percent.

The authors also found that:

“[i]n addition to higher earnings, workers in STEM occupations on average experience lower unemployment rates than workers in other fields… The unemployment rate for STEM workers rose from 1.8 percent in 2007 to 5.5 percent in 2009 before easing to 5.3 percent in 2010. The unemployment rate for non-STEM workers rose from 4.8 percent in 2007 to 9.5 percent in 2009 and then continued to increase to almost 10 percent in 2010.”

They caution that some of the difference in unemployment rate between STEM and non-STEM workers reflects the higher level of educational achievement by the average STEM worker. They point out that workers with higher levels of education, regardless of what field they work in, tend to experience lower levels of unemployment.

The report concludes by saying:

“The greatest advancements in our society from medicine to mechanics have come from the minds of those interested in or studied in the areas of STEM. Although still relatively small in number, the STEM workforce has an outsized impact on a nation’s competitiveness, economic growth, and overall standard of living… STEM jobs are the jobs of the future. They are essential for developing our technological innovation and global competitiveness…

“As this analysis highlights, STEM jobs should also be highly desirable to American workers. Regardless of educational attainment, entering a STEM profession is associated with higher earnings and reduced joblessness.”

David A. Kronig
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics