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For half, STEM degrees lead to other jobs

Patrick Thibodeau, Sharon Machlis | July 25, 2014
The truth, when it comes to computer employment data, is almost always ugly.

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

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

The unemployment rate among "computer workers" with at least a bachelor's degree was 2.6% for people categorized as white, and 5.3% 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 receive STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math, degrees in college. The report, based on 2012 American Community Survey data, found many well-paid and educated workers who, despite holding a STEM degree, do not have a job in one of those fields.

Computer worker unemployment

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, math or statistics, the figure is 49%, nearly the same for engineering degrees.

What happens to the other STEM trained workers? They aren't stocking shelves at Walmart. The largest numbers are managers at non-STEM businesses (22.5%), or having 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, or STEM, 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 workers or not?

In terms of oversupply, an Economic Policy Institute study last year found that for STEM graduates, the supply exceeds the number hired each year by nearly two to one, 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

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.

 

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