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Monday, May 20, 2013

The U.S. Science and Engineering Workforce: Recent, Current, and Projected Employment, Wages, and Unemployment

John F. Sargent Jr.
Specialist in Science and Technology Policy

The adequacy of the U.S. science and engineering workforce has been an ongoing concern of Congress for more than 60 years. Scientists and engineers are widely believed to be essential to U.S. technological leadership, innovation, manufacturing, and services, and thus vital to U.S. economic strength, national defense, and other societal needs. Congress has enacted many programs to support the education and development of scientists and engineers. Congress has also undertaken broad efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills to prepare a greater number of students to pursue science and engineering (S&E) degrees. Some policymakers have sought to increase the number of foreign scientists and engineers working in the United States through changes in visa and immigration policies.

Many policymakers, business leaders, academicians, S&E professional society analysts, economists, and others hold diverse views with respect to the adequacy of the S&E workforce and related policy issues. These issues include the question of the existence of a shortage of scientists and engineers in the United States, what the nature of such a shortage might be (e.g., too few people with S&E degrees, mismatched skills and needs), and whether the federal government should undertake policy interventions to address such a putative shortage or to allow market forces to work in this labor market. Among the key indicators used by labor economists to assess occupational labor shortages are employment growth, wage growth, and unemployment rates.

In 2011, there were 5.9 million scientists and engineers employed in the United States, accounting for 4.6% of total U.S. employment. Science and engineering employment was concentrated in two S&E occupational groups, computer occupations (56%) and engineers (25%), with the rest accounted for by S&E managers (9%), physical scientists (4%), life scientists (4%), and those in mathematical occupations (2%). From 2008 to 2011 S&E employment increased by 99,550, rising to 5.9 million, a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 0.6%, while overall U.S. employment contracted at 1.7% CAGR. Viewed only in aggregate, the overall increase in S&E employment masks the varied degrees of growth and decline in the detailed S&E occupations.

In 2011, the mean wage for all scientists and engineers was $85,700, while the mean wage for all other occupations was $43,300. Between 2008 and 2011, the mean wages of each S&E occupational group grew more slowly (1.5%-2.2% CAGR) than the mean wage for all occupations (2.3% CAGR).

Compared to the overall workforce, the S&E occupational groups had significantly lower unemployment rates for the 2008-2011 period. In general, though, the professional occupations (of which the S&E occupations are a part) historically have had lower unemployment rates than the workforce as a whole. In 2011, the overall S&E unemployment rate of 3.9% was higher than for other selected professional occupations, including lawyers (2.1%), physicians and surgeons (0.6%), dentists (0.7%), and registered nurses (2.0%).

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the number of science and engineering jobs (as defined in this report) will grow by 1.1 million between 2010 and 2020, a growth rate (1.7% CAGR) that is somewhat faster than that of the overall workforce (1.3%). In addition, BLS projects that a further 1.3 million scientists and engineers will be needed to replace those projected to exit S&E occupations. Growth in the S&E occupational groups is projected to range from 1.0%-2.0% CAGR. The number of scientists and engineers needed to meet growth and net replacement needs between 2010 and 2020 is 2.4 million, including 1.4 million in the computer occupations and 525,900 engineers.

Date of Report: May 6, 2013
Number of Pages: 40
Order Number: R43061
Price: $29.95

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