STEM jobs and the economy
You know how we’re always hearing that not enough people major in science, technology, math, and engineering? The STEM subjects? That our country is losing pace in the competition with other countries for technology and such?
True and false. True that there are plenty of jobs for people with very strong skills in these areas. On the other hand we don’t want everyone to suddenly become a scientist/engineer/mathematician/computer nerd, because the truth is we don’t really have that many jobs. It’s not like the factory jobs of yesteryear or the agricultural jobs of yesteryesteryear.
Why? These jobs by nature are idiosyncratic and typically conclude with hugely scalable results. There’s only so many social media systems we need created, only so many air traffic control programs that need to work. After a while we might actually be done with some of this. An Detroit-sized army of engineers would not be the right tool for the job, actually, we wouldn’t know what to do with them.
So when you hear calls for more people like this, take it with a grain of salt. The truth is, they are rare now, will probably stay relatively rare, and the reason there’s so much emphasis on STEM professionals is this: having skills like that is a ticket to the elite. Let me explain why I say “elite”, which is a loaded term.
There has been plenty of documentation of the following phenomenon: instead of lots of middle class job creation, we’ve been seeing technology-driven high-paying job creation, on the one hand, and a bunch of low-paying, person-to-person jobs like working in health care as home health aides on the other hand.
Be a nerd with me and extrapolate our current system out fifty years. What do you see happening?
Here’s what I see. Continued loss of classic middle-class jobs, continued efficiency gains with highly scaled industries run by a few super techno-savvy billionaire elites. Lots of people either jobless or working in the remaining jobs that can’t be done by computers or taken off-shore, mostly involving food and healthcare. Society has been hollowed out, once and for all.
I actually believe in this, and I don’t think it’s really avoidable. On the other hand, it could either end well or badly, depending on how we deal with it, and depending on what the standard of living is for people who have been edged out of a living by the enormous technological gains we’ve made.
Do they get well-paid for the work they do find? Do they have access to healthcare? Do they have to worry about feeding themselves and their kids? Do they get told by some hypocritical blowhard politician to man up and get a job when no jobs exist? Are they in irretrievably hopeless student debt?