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posted: 12/7/2013 1:23 PM

Is there really a worker shortage in STEM fields?

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Students at Wheeling High School aren't the only ones focusing on STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- education.

President Barack Obama announced during his first term that he wanted the U.S. to recruit 100,000 new STEM teachers over the next 10 years and have colleges and universities graduate an additional 1 million students in STEM majors. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are projected to grow by 17 percent from 2008 to 2018, compared to 9.8 percent growth for non-STEM occupations.

Many other schools throughout the suburbs have put an additional focus on STEM, whether through new classes or after-school clubs, all with the idea that there will be a shortage of Americans to fill an increasing number of jobs in STEM field.

But some researchers say that's not the case.

"There is no shortage now and there will be no shortage in the future," said Ron Hira, research associate at the Economic Policy Institute. "No matter what labor market indicator you look at, it's not there."

While there may be growth in some STEM fields such as information technology, others, such as chemistry-related fields, are not doing as well, he said. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers show real job growth in education, health care and government, he said.

Hira said he isn't sure exactly why STEM has become the political and educational buzzword of the moment, but it could be a few factors.

"It works in their political interest," Hira said. "I think people have kind of gone in with these blinders on in search of the simple answer. If you say it over and over again, it appeals to people. It seems to make sense, but there's no data to back any of it up."

Part of the promotion could be coming from large tech companies wanting higher supply of employees to lower production costs.

"This is all about industry wanting to lower wages," said Norman Matloff, a professor of computer science at the University of California Davis in an article in the Chronicle of High Education last month on what researchers are now calling the "STEM myth."

Going into a STEM field has been promoted for its job security and high wages, but experts say it's no guarantee.

"It's hard to predict what's going to happen. STEM is doing better that other jobs, but that is pretty low bar with the economy now," Hira said.

Hira said all of this could be building toward a STEM-bubble that could eventually burst.

That's not to say STEM is a bad field to go into.

"There is an argument that STEM folks create more innovation, and that innovation drives economic growth, and I believe that," Hira said. "STEM is still a good education and a good base field, even for people who might not end up in STEM fields."

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