The recent buzz that there really isn’t a shortage of science, technology, engineering and math (known collectively as STEM) workers is belied by the experience of hundreds of tech companies that are willing to expend additional money in finding and relocating skilled workers from overseas. There, too, research suggests the anti-immigrant forces are peddling snake oil.
Are these companies are mistaken about a STEM shortage? Jonathan Rothwell and Neil G. Ruiz of Brookings are out with a new study that says no, there really is a reason why U.S. companies have to go overseas:
The vast majority — 90 percent — of H-1B applications are for jobs requiring high-level STEM knowledge. This finding is based on our analysis of Department of Labor survey data on the knowledge needed to perform occupations. The evidence shows that these vacancies are harder to fill than other job openings.Labor market experts interpret the duration of a job opening as an indicator that qualified candidates are hard to find. Such an interpretation of vacancy survey data is empirically grounded in both historical and many contemporary labor market surveys from private firms and state governments. . . . H-1B workers are paid more than U.S. native-born workers with a bachelor’s degree generally ($76,356 versus $67,301 in 2010) and even within the same occupation and industry for workers with similar experience. This suggests that they provide hard-to-find skills.
In sum, if you believe in free markets, you shouldn’t advocate artificially restricting the U.S. labor market and you should consider the market-driven behavior of a raft of industries. But then again, the anti-immigration forces believe many things that aren’t so. That is the prerogative I suppose, but they shouldn’t invoke Friedman when doing so, and lawmakers should understand what they are saying isn’t supported by evidence.