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Science Careers Blog

October 9, 2007

Science Adrift, with the Numbers to Prove It

The Commission on Professionals in Science and Technology (CPST), issued the eighth report (PDF, registration required) in its Workforce Data Project today describing a tepid environment for science and technology careers. The report asks and answers the question, "Is U.S. science adrift?" with a resounding "Of course it is." And it provides some numbers from the Current Population Survey maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to back up its assessment.

To begin, in 2006 some 7.3 million professionals in the United States worked in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) fields, down from a high point of 7.6 million in 2001. As a proportion of the American workforce, STEM professionals dropped from 5.6% in 2001 to 5.0% in 2006. To put these declines in historical context, the numbers of STEM professionals and their percentage of the workforce, generally rose from 1984 (4.4 million/4.4%) to 2000 (7.6 million/5.6%). The 7.3 million STEM pros working in the U.S. in 2006 is about the same as in 1999. The 2006 percentage (5.0%) of the total workforce is the same as in 1996.

Looking at the job and pay growth of individual science and technology specialties, there are more losers than winners. Compared to the rest of the employed population between 2003 and 2006, the number of employed medical scientists, aerospace engineers, and, to some extent civil and mechanical engineers grew more quickly than the employed workforce overall. On the other hand, the number of chemists, chemical technicians, operations researchers, computer scientists and systems analysts, engineering technicians, and industrial engineers underperformed compared to the national workforce. New IT technologists (e.g. software engineers and database managers), electrical and electronics engineers, computer hardware engineers, psychologists, computer programmers, and bio/life scientists had growth rates about on par with the U.S. workforce as a whole.

Compensation for STEM professionals in 2003-2006, compared to the workforce as a whole, is even more depressing. Only a few specialties -- operations researchers, computer scientists, systems analysts, and chemists -- saw their pay increase more than the whole workforce. Psychologists, electrical and electronics engineers, computer hardware engineers, and mechanical engineers experienced somewhat lower pay growth than the national workforce. And the rest of the STEM professions stayed about even with the rest of the country's employed population.

The report crunches more numbers, and provides some analysis. It notes, for example, that despite some glimmers of hope for more research funding from the newly signed America COMPETES Act, no one is addressing labor market issues such as off-shoring and guest workers (which I assume refers to H1-B visas, not farm workers). The report's author also bemoans the lack of an aggressive, unified policy voice for the STEM workforce.

CPST is an affiliated organization with American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the publisher of Science magazine and Science Careers.

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