For half, STEM degrees lead to other jobs

Census data provides some detail, and also raises questions about whether there's a U.S. shortage of STEM workers

The truth, when it comes to computer employment data, is almost always ugly.

For instance, among people with college degrees in computer-related disciplines, men are paid more than women ($90,354 vs. $78,859, on average), and African American workers are more likely to be unemployed than white or Asian workers.

The unemployment rate among "computer workers" with at least a bachelor's degree was 2.6% for people categorized as white, and 5.3% for people categorized as black or African American, according to U.S. Census data.

Men also make up about 75% of all computer workers.

These data points are from a U.S. Census Bureau report released earlier this month on what happens to people who graduate from college with degrees in STEM disciplines -- science, technology, engineering or math. The report, based on 2012 American Community Survey data, found many educated, well-paid people who hold STEM degrees but do not have jobs in one of those fields.

Computer worker unemployment

Demographic Rate
Asian 2.1
Men 2.5
White 2.6
Women 3.2
Hispanic 3.6
Black 5.3
ALL 2.7
Civilian workers age 25-64 holding at least a bachelor's degree. Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2012 American Community Survey

The Census Bureau reports that only 26% of people with any type of four-year STEM degree are working in a STEM field. For those with a degree specifically in computer science, math or statistics, the figure is 49%, nearly the same for engineering degrees.

What happens to the other STEM trained people? They aren't stocking shelves at Walmart. The largest numbers work as managers at non-STEM businesses (22.5%) or are pursuing careers in education (17.7%), business/finance (13.2%) and office support (11.5%).

But the report's overarching finding -- that 74% of those who have a bachelor's degree in science, technology, engineering and math are not employed in STEM occupations -- comes with an unmentioned political question that may be the ugliest of them all: Is there a shortage of STEM-trained professionals or not?

Some research suggests that there may be an oversupply of STEM professionals. An Economic Policy Institute study last year found that the supply of STEM graduates exceeds the number hired each year by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1, depending on field of study. In engineering, colleges historically produce about 50% more graduates than are hired into engineering jobs, the study found.

Unemployment for computer/math/stats degree holders

Demographic Rate
Men 3.3
Women 3.8
White 3.0
Black 6.8
Asian 3.5
Hispanic 4.1
ALL 3.5
Civilian workers age 25-64. Source: U.S. Census Bureau 2012 American Community Survey

One of study's authors, Lindsay Lowell, director of policy studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, said the Census findings are consistent with the EPI study.

"The unemployment in STEM is low now, but wage growth in most STEM occupations has been pretty flat for many years and employment growth has only recently shown any bounce," said Lowell.

Most people with STEM educations who work "in non-STEM jobs are simply not utilizing the skills they were trained to use," said Lowell.

Jonathan T. Rothwell, a fellow at The Brookings Institution, doesn't believe that the Census study captures the role that STEM-trained workers play. Many STEM majors end up working in some kind of managerial capacity because "that's the natural outgrowth of success in their field," he said.

Rothwell points out that Google's co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, would both be classified as non-STEM managers by the Census, even though both are STEM-trained. And while STEM-specific managers such as CIOs would be counted as working in STEM occupations, CEOs would not.

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