My post this evening will mainly involve a new report from the National Science Foundation (NSF) on how well STEM PhDs are faring in the job market, both short- and long-term. But first I’ll bring in a couple of news items, and then connect them to the NSF, with the common theme of spinning almost any kind of news in a manner aimed at implanting in the American consciousness a positive view of expanded immigration policies.
So, first and foremost, congratulations to Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2015. She was my daughter’s classmate in high school and even junior high school, and though I’ve only seen her a few times, it has always been clear that she is headed for big things, and deservedly so.
But I was a little irritated to see the manner in which Ms. Kazantsev’s victory was announced by FWD.us: “Did you know? The new Miss America 2015 is a first generation American and daughter of Russian immigrants.” What possible relevance can that have? It’s just PR indoctrination. I’ve been critical of FWD.us in this blog before for their manipulative ways, as many of you know. By the way, FWD.us is hiring interns for such work, which is troubling.
Maybe I need my own PR firm, which would make a proud announcement, “Did you know that H-1B critic Norm Matloff is the son of a Lithuanian immigrant?”
My second item before turning to the NSF report is this job-seekers advice column by Laszlo Bock, Senior VP of People Operations (read “HR”) at Google. (I learned of this from an alert reader, thanks.) The advice itself is good, but rather at odds with the Google/Bock stance on the labor market. Bock writes
The toughest part is that for 15 years, I’ve continued to see the same mistakes [in re’sume’s] made again and again by candidates, any one of which can eliminate them from consideration for a job. What’s most depressing is that I can tell from the resumes that many of these are good, even great, people. But in a fiercely competitive labor market, hiring managers don’t need to compromise on quality. All it takes is one small mistake and a manager will reject an otherwise interesting candidate.
Huh? Does Bock work for the same Google that insists there is a tech labor shortage, so severe that it must hire lots of H-1B visa workers? Indeed, Bock testified to Congress in support of expanding the H-1B program. In fact, in his testimony he talked about Google being in competition with other firms, here and abroad, for talented workers — a huge contrast to his statement above that even great workers are competing with each other for jobs, rather than employers competing to hire them.
Bock’s testimony, by the way, is laced with the term foreign-born in referring to the H-1Bs, rather than foreign. I explained in an earlier post, titled “When Did Foreign Students Become ‘International’?”, that even this is calculated PR; nothing is left to chance.
A couple of days ago, a prominent journalist for whom I have enormous respect said to me, “The H-1B program has strong mainstream support.” The above incidents show how such support is created by deft PR work and lots of money.
Which brings me, at last, to the new NSF report. Keep in mind that the NSF has always been pro-H-1B, and it shows here: The press release headline reads, “Unemployment for Doctoral Scientists and Engineers Below National Average in 2013.” Wonderful! But definitely misleading, for a number of reasons. For example, those who bother to read the actual report will find that the NSF is counting someone as “employed” even if they are working just part-time.
Moreover, the comparison to the national average is inapropriate, since highly-educated people tend to be resourceful types, who will find some kind of job. But WHAT kind? The report actually answers that question, and there the picture is not so rosy. Let’s look at computer science (CS), both because it’s my field and because it is the field with the largest number of H-1Bs.
Begin with Table 2, which shows that nearly 7% of CS PhDs are either working part-time or are unemployed (but seeking employment). That’s a rather high rate, considering that the industry PR people say CS is such a red-hot field, and in light of the fact that the PR people often point to the high proportion of CS doctorates granted to foreign students by U.S. universities as a reason for hiring H-1Bs.
Things then get worse in the second half of the same table, where there is a breakdown by age. I’ve emphasized many times that one of the major reasons employers like the H-1B program so much is that enables them to hire young H-1Bs instead of older (age 35+) Americans, and sadly, the table shows employment for PhDs declines markedly with age.
Table 3 compares, among other things, Americans to workers with temporary work visas (H-1B, L-1, F-1/OPT, J-1 etc.). Look at the dramatic difference! The percentage who are either working part-time or are unemployed is over 12% for U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but under 4% for the work visa people. (Most of the unemployed in the latter group are presumably F-1s.) A large part of this discrepancy is likely due to the age effect, but it is compelling in any case.
Finally, go to another NSF report, in data titled “Table 32-2, Involuntarily Out-of-Field Rate among Doctoral Scientists and Engineers, by Occupation: 2013,” There we see the remarkable statistic that 11.3% of CS PhDs are involuntarily working outside the field. Again, consider this in the context I described above — CS is supposed to be a hot seller’s market for employment, especially for PhDs.
The reality is that getting a doctorate in CS is overkill for most nonacademic jobs. An HP manager told me, “The ‘sweet spot’ is the master’s degree,” and an Intel recruiter remarked, “Intel is not very interested in PhDs.” Indeed, an HR person at Google told me that CS PhDs hired at Google typically get Software Engineer titles, just like bachelor’s-level workers. And as I report in my Migration Letters paper, a study commissioned by the Computing Research Association (a consortium of university CS Departments across North America) found that the job market for CS PhDs is tough and will continue to be so.
I’ve often mentioned that a 1989 internal NSF report forecast (and spoke approvingly) that an influx of foreign doctoral students would keep PhD wages down, making doctoral study unattractive to Americans. That is exactly what has occurred, as noted in the congressionally-commissioned NRC report in 2001, and put bluntly by Cisco Systems Vice President for Research Douglas Comer: “…a Ph.D. in computer science is probably a financial loser in both the short and long terms, says Douglas Comer” (Science Careers, April 11, 2008).
If having a PhD doesn’t add much value in CS jobs, then why does the industry hire them? As noted, they actually don’t hire so many as they want the public to believe. But the answer also lies in another point I often make about the attractiveness of the H-1B visa to employers — the visa (coupled with sponsorship for a green card, typical in firms like Cisco, Google etc.) renders the worker IMMOBILE, a status of tremendous value, as the employer doesn’t want an engineer leaving for another firm in the midst of an urgent project. This is often pitched to employers by immigration attorneys as the advantage of hiring foreign students; the ad at the site http://hiref-1students.com/ should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the real dynamics of the H-1B visa and employer-sponsored green cards.
Once again, Senator Grassley’s comment about H-1B applies: “No one should be fooled.”