NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Scientist Shortage Studies are Hokum

November 7, 2003

According to the GAO, all of the shortfall estimates are questionable due to weak methodologies and very low response rates.

Additionally, there is strong evidence that contradicts the studies' claims. There has been little upward pressure on real wages for workers with advanced degrees; furthermore, the unemployment rates reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest a surplus of advanced degrees. According to the Bureau:

  • Computer programmers' unemployment rates range from 6.7 to 7.5 percent.
  • All engineering occupations taken together average 4.4 percent unemployment.
  • In the high tech fields of electrical and electronic engineering, unemployment rates range from 6.4 to 7 percent.

The shortage claims have served two roles, says the GAO. First, it puts political pressure on Congress to "do something about it." For example, shortage studies helped lobbyists to greatly expand the H-1B visa -- the temporary-visa program for foreign "specialty workers" that comprise the bulk of foreign science and engineering professionals being admitted to work in the United States. While the GAO lambasted the studies as inaccurate, the policy consequences remain. Second, it keeps the real wages of those with advanced education down, a view supported by economist Eric Weinstein.

Source: Michael S. Teitelbaum, "Do we need more scientists?" The Public Interest, Fall 2003.


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