American Engineering Association Manpower Bulletin Vol. 1, No. 2, July 1999

NEVER A SHORTAGE, ALWAYS A SURPLUS

We have been taken in by the shortage shouters for a long time. They have controlled the public and political agenda. Akin to the master propagandists of 60 years ago, they have by repetition caused everyone to think that shortages are the issue.

 

Nothing can be further from reality. The reality is that there has always been a SURPLUS of engineers, never a SHORTAGE. Have you ever seen the unemployment rate of engineers go negative? It never does. Only then would it be credible to discuss shortages.

 

The BLS CPS data on unemployment of engineers over the last 35 years has varied between a few tenths of one percent to over 4%. For EE's the unemployment rate has gone as high as 6%. At the peak of unemployment of engineers in the second quarter of 1993, there were 81,000 unemployed engineers. In the second quarter of 1994, EE unemployment reached a peak of 34,000 with only 540,000 employed.

 

Even in the high demand economy of the second quarter of 1999, there were 21,000 EE's SURPLUS based on the narrowly defined 6,000 BLS unemployed. The definition of a SURPLUS is more than enough.

SESTAT data has shown a more significant SURPLUS. Data on Total Scientists and Engineers shows significant numbers NOT IN THE LABOR FORCE that are in addition to the limited number that are classified as unemployed. By age brackets, here are the numbers for those not in the labor force with degrees in Science and Engineering fields:

 

Under 30, 181,547

Age30-39, 199,450

Age 40-49, 198,871

Age 50-59, 201,950

Age 60 and over, 968,663 (55.6%)!

No, there are no displaced decimal points. The total degreed population is 13,328,900. The NSF SESTAT survey list is obtained from US colleges and universities. It would not include the large number of immigrants and temporary workers educated outside of the US.

During 1998, there was a rapid increase in unemployment of EE's from a base level average of 5,500 in 1997 to a peak of 21,000 in the third quarter of 1998. In the same period, employment decreased from a 1997 average of 652,000 to a low of 601,000 in the 1998 third quarter.

 

The relationship we can conclude that the total SURPLUS including the classified unemployed is 3.3 times the current unemployment level. The rapid decline in unemployment and the large increases of employment at the ends of previous recessions qualitatively supports the relationship.

An untold number of non-immigrant workers are presently working on or learning of high technology products, services or software that are being exported. It is publicly stated by employers that non-immigrants are crucial to the development of advanced technology yet their use or contact with products, services or software makes that use a "deemed export" and subject to licensing or refusal to license. Use without a license is subject to fines and criminal penalties.

Non-immigrants can only be used on low technology products separated and isolated from any controlled products or information. The 95 to 98% of applicants turned down by high technology employers would certainly qualify for the low technology activities and completely eliminate the need for non-immigrant workers.

It is in the short term interest of employers to have a large SURPLUS labor pool from which to draw when they have expanding or replacement needs, but it is not in the interest of professionals to be a part of that SURPLUS labor pool.

 

Professionals should demand that discussions of supply be couched in terms of SURPLUSES that are 3.3 times the unemployment rate and readily available to return to the Science and Engineering workforce.

 

Those not readily available can be brought back in to the available workforce by economic inducements and training. The current and potential supply of US educated workers puts a lie to any arguments for the need for temporary foreign workers.

Robert A. Rivers Chair, American Engineering Association (AEA) Manpower Committee Orange, MA, T. 978-544-8225, F. 978-544-9902, e-mail RRivers297@aol.com