Commerce Department Touts Promise of STEM Careers

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Publication date: 
2 August 2011

The U.S.  Department of Commerce’s Economics and Statistics Administration (ESA) issued a  report  last month that found significant benefits to  pursuing jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines.  On average, workers in STEM jobs across all levels of educational attainment earn  more money and experience lower unemployment when compared with workers in  non-STEM jobs.

The  report’s authors, David Langdon, George McKittrick, David Beede, Beethika Khan,  and Mark Doms, in ESA’s Office of the Chief Economist, “define STEM jobs to include professional and technical support  occupations in the fields of computer science and mathematics, engineering, and  life and physical sciences. Three management occupations are also included  because of their clear ties to STEM.

Across  all levels of educational achievement, the authors found a significant premium  for workers in STEM jobs. Even after running a regression to control for a  variety of demographic, geographic, and other characteristics, the authors  found a significant advantage to working in STEM fields. Workers with less than  a bachelor’s degree earned more than 30 percent more in STEM fields than in  non-STEM fields. For those with a bachelor’s degree, the regression-based  premium was 23 percent, and for those with a graduate degree, the premium was  12 percent.

The  authors also found that:

“[i]n  addition to higher earnings, workers in STEM occupations on average experience  lower unemployment rates than workers in other fields… The unemployment rate  for STEM workers rose from 1.8 percent in 2007 to 5.5 percent in 2009 before  easing to 5.3 percent in 2010. The unemployment rate for non-STEM workers rose  from 4.8 percent in 2007 to 9.5 percent in 2009 and then continued to increase  to almost 10 percent in 2010.”

They  caution that some of the difference in unemployment rate between STEM and  non-STEM workers reflects the higher level of educational achievement by the  average STEM worker. They point out that workers with higher levels of  education, regardless of what field they work in, tend to experience lower  levels of unemployment.

The  report concludes by saying:

“The  greatest advancements in our society from medicine to mechanics have come from  the minds of those interested in or studied in the areas of STEM. Although  still relatively small in number, the STEM workforce has an outsized impact on  a nation’s competitiveness, economic growth, and overall standard of living…  STEM jobs are the jobs of the future. They are essential for developing our  technological innovation and global competitiveness…

“As  this analysis highlights, STEM jobs should also be highly desirable to American  workers. Regardless of educational attainment, entering a STEM profession is  associated with higher