Obama Still Buys Into the STEM Shortage

One of the things that has gone relatively unnoticed is that Obama bought into the whole notion that the U.S. faces a STEM worker shortage. Riverdaughter dissects that particular bullshit (boldface mine):

There are two problems with the idea that American needs more highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers from foreign countries. The first is that it’s bullshit and the second is that Obama is getting his information from the same Wall Street braintrusts who ran our research complex into the ground.

Let’s take on the bullshit aspect first, shall we? Since 2008, the biotech/pharma research sector has laid off over 100,000 scientists, the bulk of them in NJ. Don’t believe me? Check out FiercePharma Top 10 Layoffs for 2009 for a taste of the carnage. As for foreign engineers needing to come here, I can only assume he means the kind of engineers they employ in the Apple plants in China. Because I know American chemical engineers who are working in Canada and Japan because they can’t get a job in the United States. So, the only reason I can think as to why we are bringing in foreign engineers is that the companies that want to hire them have been keeping perfectly good, highly skilled American engineers out of the labor market and now, realizing they actually need engineers, they want to bring in cheap labor from elsewhere.

It is the mark of a very disinterested, captured president if he is unwilling to address the real problem of unemployed American STEM workers, who apparently have no voice, in order to shut up the yammering from the executive suites of big companies. He’d rather send our own American high tech workers out of the country and away from their families than ask companies to demonstrate why they need to be sitting on the pile of cash that should be wages. This is shameful.

Secondly, about that entrepreneurship? What exactly does he think R&D professionals are made of? When we were working for corporations, we were not exactly making the big bucks. Some of us came from the midwest and were dragged out to the most expensive areas of the country when our corporate overlords decided to merge their little hearts away. THEN when those same corporate overlords realized that the cost of research was suddenly too high, because they vastly increased the cost of each scientist by moving them out to the suburbs of New York City and Philadelphia, they unceremoniously laid our asses off and stranded us here. The severance packages are temporary, mortgages are forever.

So, where exactly are we supposed to get money to be entrepreneurs? I mean, who in their right mind would lend money to little biotech startups with a lead compound and expect that compound to go all the way through clinical to market? Well, as we have seen from recent evidence, it is very, very difficult to start those kinds of businesses here because once the compound is at the development stage, you need to lay off early discovery personnel in order to have enough capital to see the drug through the next stage. What foreign grad student would voluntarily come to America to put themselves through that short employment cycle? Why not go to Germany to study? I would. I wouldn’t waste my time struggling here in the US where you are expected to live on a pittance, public transportation is awful, healthcare is ridiculously expensive and you can’t buy a decent house on the $37K a year that you’ll be expected to make as a permanent post doc.

If Obama can’t get this one policy right with regard to the causes and effects of high unemployment among American STEM workers, I can’t believe he has a good grip on ANY economic issue. It’s either willful ignorance on his part or he just doesn’t give a damn.

Actually, his embrace of Rubinite neo-liberalism points me towards “I can’t believe he has a good grip on ANY economic issue.” Because here’s the growth rate in biomedical PhDs (focus on the orange line at the top):

(data here)

A doubling over an eight year period from 2002 – 2009. Does anyone think that’s sustainable? It’s not clear at all, as Riverdaughter notes, that the need is there.

It does, however, help drive salaries down and keep share prices up. Which is good for the people who really run the country.

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6 Responses to Obama Still Buys Into the STEM Shortage

  1. Paul Orwin says:

    STEM workers do not equal Ph.D.s, and especially don’t equal Ph.D.s in biomedical science. your point isn’t exactly wrong, just tangential http://www.epi.org/publication/pm195-stem-labor-shortages-microsoft-report-distorts/

  2. Craig Levin says:

    The situation of too many people in the profession is also becoming the case in aerospace. However, STEM education is still a big deal in DC because of concerns over the general population’s diminishing scientific literacy.

  3. JohnV says:

    “they want to bring in cheap labor from elsewhere.”

    This is the case for both legal and illegal immigration. Want cheap labor? Flood the market, drive wages down. Doesn’t matter if the job is post-doctoral fellow, staff scientist, manual laborer or whatever.

  4. Lindsay says:

    I laugh bitterly whenever I read about a STEM-worker shortage.

    If that were true, you’d think I would’ve been able to find a job in the last, oh, SEVEN YEARS, wouldn’t you?

  5. Newcastle says:

    They’ve done a damn good job of driving down labor costs. A decade ago I could make a decent living as a senior lab technician in the university environment. Not so much anymore. Now we are hiring PhDs to do minipreps and snip mice tails for $30K a year. Not too surprising when his thesis was on the biomechanics of the crustacean carapace (no joke) but never-the-less the entire job field has pretty much been wiped out. The labs are now populated by graduate students, postdocs and PhDs in technician jobs. They can’t get second, third or fourth postdocs so they take the tech jobs and since they are desperate and generally unemployable outside the lab environment they will actually work for $15/hr. “If I get a paper out of it maybe I’ll get another postdoc” riiiight. Yet every year they bring in a new full class of willing student/serfs with stars in their eyes…

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