The US is a big country, with nearly one in five Americans holding a college degree, according to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But while many Americans still aspire to a career in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, there are fewer than 20,000 new jobs that require a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field, a statistic that is increasingly relevant in the era of the so-called “disruptive technologies”.
While that statistic reflects a growing number of people who may aspire to careers in STEM fields, it does not capture the impact that education is having on employment in those fields.
The National Science Foundation estimates that the number of jobs that are in STEM in the United States has dropped by almost 80% since 2000, a trend that began in the late 1980s.
That decline is partly due to the rapid expansion of computer and electronic technology.
But more importantly, many people are no longer willing to take a chance on entering the workforce because of the lack of STEM skills.
“The decline in STEM [science, technology and engineering] jobs is a problem in itself, but it is also one that is impacting many Americans, especially women, who are the most likely to be unemployed and to be in low-wage jobs,” said Dr Jill Darr, director of the Center for Research on Women in Science and Engineering at Rutgers University.
“Women, particularly women in the STEM fields are more likely than men to not have the same skills that they would want in a job, and this is a result of the education gap that exists in STEM.”
Dr Darr said the number and proportion of STEM-related jobs that people would like to have is a clear indicator of the impact of the STEM gap on their career prospects.
“That means that if we are to reverse the job loss in STEM, we need to address those gaps, and we need women and minorities to come back into the workforce,” she said.
“If you want to be a STEM worker in the next few years, you have to have the right background.”
What’s the STEM Gap?
Dr Dar said the gender gap is “a big one”, with women making up just 13% of all STEM-skilled workers.
While the gender imbalance in the field of science and technology is not unique to the United State, it is significant in its impact on the employment prospects of women.
The gap in STEM education and the lack, or low, participation of women in STEM-based careers has been highlighted before, but the trend has continued in recent years, especially in the past decade.
Dr Dars said the “disruption” of STEM education in the workplace is a challenge that affects everyone.
“In order to get the best job prospects, the skills we need, and the knowledge we need in order to have a good job, we have to get our kids to get into high school,” she explained.
“We have to start thinking about how do we get our students into the STEM curriculum, so they can then be in the workforce and be able to learn and be productive, to be able get the skills that are necessary for a successful career in the 21st century.”
The lack of access to STEM education has also made it difficult for many women to secure jobs, especially if they are working in low paid positions.
“Many women, especially those working in STEM jobs, are less likely to get paid for their work and are often in situations where they can’t afford to pay for childcare or take on child care,” Dr Darr added.
“There are so many factors that are contributing to the lack [of] women in these jobs, including lack of funding for childcare, lack of training, and a lot of other barriers.”
Dr Carr said it is important for policymakers to focus on these barriers to ensure that we have the best jobs for everyone.
“I think that there’s a lot more to do to make sure that all Americans are getting a good education and a career that’s going to have them in the middle class, to have good-paying jobs,” she added.
For more information about STEM fields:What do the latest US census data show?
What is the STEM Gini coefficient?
What are the skills needed to be an advanced engineer?
How are STEM fields changing?
What will be the biggest STEM jobs in 10 years?