The notion that there is a shortage of American high-tech workers has been parroted as if it were an indisputable fact by members of congress Congress, academia, and the mainstream press. It has been the impetus behind the relentless campaign for amnesty legislation and a dramatic increase in the number of high-tech visas to allow Silicon Valley to import more foreign workers.
Except there is a problem with those claims. They are not true, and there is empirical evidence to prove it, says Michael Teitelbaum in a piece in, of all places, The Atlantic, a publication that is often cozy with the captains of the high-tech world. He writes that “such claims are now well established as conventional wisdom” and “there is almost no debate in the mainstream.”
Take an article in the Financial Times this week in which the publication repeated the claim that in “booming” Silicon Valley, “engineers are in high demand but short supply,” and companies “are facing the most competitive rush ever to secure US work visas for their foreign hires.”
“They echo from corporate CEO to corporate CEO, from lobbyist to lobbyist, from editorial writer to editorial writer,” Teitelbaum writes. “But what if what everyone knows is wrong? What if this conventional wisdom is just the same claims ricocheting in an echo chamber?”
Claims of a so-called tech-shortage are nothing new, and there have been five phases in history when similar calls have been trumpeted by industry elites. The truth, he says, “is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce” and that conventional wisdom is vastly different from the empirical evidence.
As Teitelbaum notes, there has been even more research on the subject from “leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute.” But no one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree:
All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings–the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many–but not all–science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.
He mentions that is is “easy to cherry-pick specific specialties that really are in short supply, at least in specific years and locations” and concedes that it is “true that high-skilled professional occupations almost always experience unemployment rates far lower than those for the rest of the U.S. workforce.” Yet, unemployment “among scientists and engineers is higher than in other professions such as physicians, dentists, lawyers, and registered nurses, and surprisingly high unemployment rates prevail for recent graduates even in fields with alleged serious ‘shortages’ such as engineering (7.0 percent), computer science (7.8 percent) and information systems (11.7 percent).”
Teitelbaum also notes that in the current state of play, “far from offering expanding attractive career opportunities, it seems that many, but not all, science and engineering careers are headed in the opposite direction: unstable careers, slow-growing wages, and high risk of jobs moving offshore or being filled by temporary workers from abroad.”
Already, for instance, “among college-educated information technology workers under age 30, temporary workers from abroad constitute a large majority.” He notes that “even in electrical and electronic engineering–an occupation that is right at the heart of high-tech innovation but that also has been heavily outsourced abroad–U.S. employment in 2013 declined to about 300,000, down 35,000 and over 10 percent, from 2012, and down from about 385,000 in 2002.” And the unemployment rate in that industry is on the rise.
But that has not stopped Silicon Valley from going all-in for amnesty legislation in Congress. Silicon Valley companies are getting more creative in their efforts to import more foreign workers. They want to double and perhaps even triple the number of H-1B visas that are annually awarded to 180,000.The SKILLS Act, supported by Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Darrell Issa (R-CA), passed out of committee in the House and would double the number of H-1B visas that are awarded immediately.
Lobbying groups like FWD.US, which was started by Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg, and an array of other high-tech interests have spent millions to push for amnesty legislation in Congress. Just this week, Silicon Valley executives held a big-money fundraiser with Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee.
In an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Michael Anft wrote researchers who have not received money from “technology companies or their private foundations–say the notion that there is a STEM-worker shortage is ‘a myth.'” He said that though Silicon Valley groups have spent at least $130 million on lobbying efforts, the increase in the unemployment rate suggests there are a shortage of jobs–not workers.