Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Newspaper Coverage of American STEM Workers

Just a quick post on something I find odd. The Washington Post wrote a story on the Economic Policy Institute's study on STEM workers. It contains a fair amount of information but it never explicitly mentions that a motive for the push for more H-1B visas might be to lower the wages for these workers, though it's an obvious implication of increased competition. Surprisingly, enough, however, the Wall Street Journal does make explicit that companies are using the H-1B to drive down wages and that talk of a shortage is little more than a way to protect this dynamic.

I don't have anything to add, I just found it a curious example of how much coverage of the same story can differ. The Washington Post did strongly hint at the implication, without really making it explicit. Yet, the generally more right wing paper did bring it up directly. Curious.

To add at least some real content it's worth mentioning the tangential topic of how strongly the US restricts competition in high skill jobs compared to low skill. While the H-1B program does allow some competition, many other fields, health care related in particular, face little competition. This is something we need to pay more attention to, though even if recognized its hard to see how eroding the wages of the few wage earners still getting good money will help much of anything. The deeper problem is the increasing shift towards capital income, which is terrible for the long term prospects of society (and entirely tangential).

1 comment:

  1. More H1-B visas may lower competition some, and so hold down wages. On the other hand, in a lot of STEM areas, what it will actually do is simply relocate workers from outside the country to inside.

    At the moment, if I want some computer code written (for example) I can try to hire someone here. Or I can hire someone half way around the world to write it. It frequently doesn't make any real difference to my product which way I go. There are certainly advantages to being able to meet face-to-face, at least occasionally. But they are not outweighed by the cost of getting in a bidding war for someone here who has the (rare) skills I need. So rather than try to hire someone away from another company here (which is what would drive up wages), I may just start a unit elsewhere . . . and save myself the grief of fighting for an extremely limited number of visas.

    One other thought. If you let in more STEM employees, you also have a positive effect on the local economy because you increase demand for all the things someone has to buy when they live here. Which is to say, it can drive up wages for those (typically far lower-paid) workers outside the STEM fields.