From: Norm Matloff
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2013 11:43 AM
Subject: WP to Congress--maybe no STEM shortage
To: H-1B/L-1/offshoring e-newsletter
Thu Apr 25 08:35:35 PDT 2013
EPI has a new study out, by Salzman and Lowell, the authors of the
landmark 2007 Urban Institute report that showed we're producing far
more STEM graduates than we need. There is also a third author
(actually, second), Daniel Kuehn, a talented doctoral student in
You can read the full study at
and a Washington Post article on it at
Yet another excellent piece by the Post's Jia Lynn Yang.
I have not yet read the study, just skimmed through it, and as always I
am concerned about the definition of IT. But I know all three authors
to be insightful, careful thinkers, and I look forward to reading it.
One thing I should mention about this new EPI study is that it does not
seem to take into account the quality issue. It is not the case that
all STEM graduates should get STEM jobs. In the software development
case, for instance, I've stated many times that hiring a weak person is
worse than not hiring anyone; they just mess things up. But we do not
have a shortage of high quality people either, and as I showed in my own
EPI paper, the average quality of the H-1Bs (mainstream, not workers in
the bodyshops) in computer science is weaker than that of the Americans.
It's interesting, and frustrating, that Congress ignores what I regard
as overwhelming evidence that increases in H-1B and green cards are
unwarranted, and that those programs actually should be reduced in scope
rather than expanded. Well, here is an article in their hometown
newspaper that is basically saying so. How will they deal with it?
Some of them will find comfort in the Post's description of EPI as "left
leaning," and dismiss the study as rank protectionism. Others will say
that we can't have too many STEM people (ignoring a 2012 Post article
showing how a glut of research scientists is ruining things for
everyone, and discouraging our own best and brightest from pursuing
doctoral work in science).
And as I have reported before, there is a strong sentiment of a "let's
steal the other countries' engineers," a silly, bound-to-fail notion on
various counts, such as the Saxenian research that showed that many
Asian immigrant engineers in Silicon Valley are quite active in helping
tech firms in their home countries. I suspect that President Obama
finds this last argument ("take their engineers") compelling, based on
various things I've seen him say.
And then, of course, there are the people on the Hill who share the
sentiment of former Rep. Tom Davis: "This is not a popular bill with
the people, but the CEOs want it, and they're the ones who give us the
Though I state above that I consider the evidence against expanding
foreign tech worker programs overwhelming, I should in fairness mention
the research of my UC Davis colleague, Giovanni Peri, which is being
cited by some of the industry lobbyists. I've only skimmed through it
too, but already have a number of criticisms (note that it is just a
working paper, not having gone through peer review yet), chief among
them the fact that it does not really take into account the displacement
of Americans by foreign students at the advanced degree level.
But on more fundamentally, I've always objected to this particular genre
of H-1B research, popular among those economists who are strong
supporters of tech immigration (Peri, Zavodny), in which one takes such
INDIRECT looks at the issues. In Peri's case here, he doesn't
investigate questions such as whether there is a tech labor shortage, or
whether the foreign tech workers are underpaid. Instead, he asks
whether the presence of a lot of such workers is positively correlated
with improved conditions for everyone. I'm not an economist, but I am a
statistician, and this is kind of analysis is really very shaky.
I wonder if anyone in the DC-based press will be enterprising enough to
get comment from the Gang of 8 on this new study.
Archived at http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/Archive/EPI.txt
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