February 24, 2014

Amnesty: Not Just for Low-Skilled Workers?

ByJonathon Moseley
Amnesty is being driven, among others, by big businesses claiming they cannot hire enough high-tech professionals. These are (or posture as) major donors to members of Congress. So these businesses are twisting arms on Capitol Hill. The compromise is that Democrats get amnesty for illegal aliens if business gets more high-tech foreign workers. However, in fact, there is no shortage of high-tech professionals in the USA. Businesses do not need immigration reform.

On August 30, 2013, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers published a review of this question in its journal Spectrum, titled "The STEM Crisis Is a Myth." "STEM" jobs are those in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The IEEE reports: "Every year U.S. schools grant more STEM degrees than there are available jobs. When you factor in H-1B visa holders, existing STEM degree holders, and the like, it's hard to make a case that there's a STEM labor shortage." The IEEE describes itself as the world's largest professional association dedicated to advancing technological innovation and excellence in science and engineering for the benefit of humanity.

The IEEE article continues to the effect that "there are more STEM workers than suitable jobs. One study found, for example, that wages for U.S. workers in computer and math fields have largely stagnated since 2000. Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers."

The Washington Post reported on April 24, 2013, in "Study: There may not be a shortage of American STEM graduates after all," on a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute finding that the United States has "more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations." The EPI found, for example, that many computer science graduates report that there are no jobs available in computer disciplines.

The Post also reported on July 7, 2012, in "U.S. pushes for more scientists, but the jobs aren't there," on high-tech graduates who cannot find jobs. The Postquotes Jim Austin, editor of the online magazine ScienceCareers: "And yet, it seems awfully hard for people to find a job. Anyone who goes into science expecting employers to clamor for their services will be deeply disappointed."

Journalists and politicos should have admitted this by now. Back on July 9, 2009,USA Today reported in "Scientist Shortage? Maybe Not" the findings of Michael Teitelbaum, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York, that there are "substantially more scientists and engineers" graduating from the USA's universities than can find attractive jobs. The Foundation funds basic scientific, economic, and civic research. USA Today chronicled high unemployment, drawn from the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics, among scientists and engineers in the U.S.

The IEEE article also explained: "What's perhaps most perplexing about the claim of a STEM worker shortage is that many studies have directly contradicted it, including reports from Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Rand Corp. A 2004 Rand study, for example, stated that there was no evidence 'that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.' That report argued that the best indicator of a shortfall would be a widespread rise in salaries throughout the STEM community. But the price of labor has not risen, as you would expect it to do if STEM workers were scarce."

And: "Viewed another way, about 15 million U.S. residents hold at least a bachelor's degree in a STEM discipline, but three-fourths of them-11.4 million-work outside of STEM." Therefore, "If there is in fact a STEM worker shortage, wouldn't you expect more people with STEM degrees to be filling those jobs?"

Most of the IEEE article documents the confusion and inconsistency in the data and terminology, rendering claims of a shortage doubtful. But the IEEE analyzed all of this as follows: "Now, if you apply the Commerce Department's definition of STEM to the NSF's annual count of science and engineering bachelor's degrees, that means about 252 000 STEM graduates emerged in 2009. So even if all the STEM openings were entry-level positions and even if only new STEM bachelor's holders could compete for them, that still leaves 70 000 graduates unable to get a job in their chosen field."

Okay, so why are we importing foreign workers when U.S. citizens can't find jobs after graduating in STEM disciplines? That shortage of 70,000 high-tech graduates per year in the USA who cannot find STEM jobs gets worse when all jobs, not just entry-level jobs, are considered.

A computer expert working in the field since the 1980s explains one problem to your author: a university degree in India is paid for by the government. So imported foreign workers are cheaper, because foreign governments subsidize their education.

By contrast, my friend still carries $40,000 in debt from his undergraduate degree. So one element of the problem is inefficiency and feather-bedding in U.S. colleges and universities, driving tuitions sky-high -- while delivering a lower quality education.

In addition, computer professionals must continually remain current in various certifications in order to get jobs. My computer professional friend explains that some computer professionals spend as much as $15,000 to $20,000 per year on certifications and related required courses. Yet high-tech employers want to drive down the salaries they pay. A professional cannot afford to stay certified on the salaries some employers want to offer. (My friend also notes that some foreign workers arrive with certifications up to date, but their low proficiency suggests that someone else took the test for them overseas.)

So why are high-profile companies pushing members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, to grant amnesty to an estimated 11 to 20 million trespassers, and also to increase the number of foreign workers who can take high-tech jobs in the USA? Could it be that big, clunky, inefficient corporate bureaucracies are simply not very good at human resources and recruitment efforts? Before reshaping our entire country, shouldn't we first try a shake-up of human resources departments? Before a corporate CEO calls his congressman or senator to threaten him, maybe he should try replacing his HR director first.

Most if not all state governments maintain lists of available jobs. When one applies for unemployment compensation (your author speaks from some experience), one is required to consult the state's list of job openings. Unfortunately, those databases are widely ignored by employers and badly designed and operated. Perhaps the government should put some time and attention into improving the opportunity for the unemployed to discover that there are job openings.

Instead of turning the country upside-down, maybe we should start with the simple things. Although regulation should be viewed with great skepticism, it would be a very slight burden and a great benefit to require employers to drop a copy of every job advertisement in the mail with a 44-cent stamp, or else send it by e-mail or fax. Since listing the job opening is a free service, the benefit of fewer unemployed drawing on government assistance programs would be worth encouraging greater use of the job databases.

Comprehensive immigration reform is irrational and harmful to America whether we are looking at the low-skill end and amnesty or the high-skill end of the picture.