The Lack of Math and Science Majors are a Symptom, Not the Cause
On Wednesday, January 6, the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a story on President Obama’s announced “partnership between federal agencies and public universities to train thousands more mathematics and science teachers each year, part of the administration’s effort to make American students more competitive globally in science, technology, engineering, and math.”
The article said that “leaders of 121 public universities have pledged to increase the total number of science and math teachers they prepare every year to 10,000 by 2015.” The year 2015 reminded me of the UN Millennium goals aimed at eradicating poverty set in 2000. A decade later we find hopes of achieving these goals rapidly fading as 2015 comes closer and more people than ever are starving, for many reasons, including intra-state power struggles and higher-priced food as a result of diversion of low-priced food into biofuels.
When political leaders set targets beyond their term of office, without methods to show how their own administration actually started meeting the targets, you have to wonder how serious they are, or whether their program is some feeble effort to remain popular by appearing to address the subject. President Obama is obviously concerned about the dwindling number of math and science majors among students, but requesting colleges and universities to produce more is a sign that he fails to understand the core reasons why the number of math and science students is dwindling.
In an effort to comply with the request, 121 university leaders promised to educate more math and science teachers. Perhaps they are just motivated to get funds from the National Science Foundation that will give away taxpayer dollars to train people for skills in which there is little US market demand.
The lack of math and science majors is a result of lack of market demand for jobs for math and science majors. It is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is the high cost of operating industries that utilize math and science majors in the United States. The cause is lack of US competitiveness, not because we don’t have science graduates or because individual citizens aren’t interested in math or science, but because US taxes, regulatory policies, and class action lawsuits, among other thing, penalize production of goods in the United States.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 77.2% of employment was classified as service providing, with 15% in government, 13.2% in professional services, 11.8% in educational services, 10.8% in health services, and 10.2% in retail trade. Manufacturing, which would be serviced by math and science majors, is in decline at 8.9%, down from 34% in 1950, and expected to drop further to 7.4% in 2018.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the 30 fastest growing occupations, in order of growth, are:
- Registered Nurses
- Home health aides
- Customer Service Representatives
- Food preparation and service
- Personal and home care aides
- Retail salespersons
- Office clerks, general
- Accountants and auditors
- Nursing aides, orderlies, attendants
- Post-secondary teachers
- Construction laborers
- Elementary school teachers
- Truck drivers
- Landscaping and grounds-keeping workers
- Bookkeepers and auditing clerks
- Executive secretaries and administrative assistants
- Management analysts
- Computer software engineers
- Receptionists and information clerks
- Medical assistants
- Office supervisors and managers
- Network systems and communication analysts
- Licensed practical and vocational nurses
- Security guards
- Waiters and waitresses
- Maintenance and repair workers
- Physicians and surgeons
- Child care workers
- Teacher assistants.
These figures show a primary growth in lower-class jobs that do not require math and science, or even a college education. Those areas of job growth that require college degrees, and might provide benefits like health insurance, are primarily composed of health professionals, financial professionals, and educators.
Students are not stupid, they do not need to be coerced into pursuing certain degrees. They will pursue degrees that they feel will enable them to to get a job. In fact, they will even borrow money to pursue such degrees. But, they will not invest over $100,000 in education that leads to unemployment.
Overall these trends paint a dismal picture for the US economy. It reveals a shrinking middle class and a decreased industrial based responsible for the Gross National Product. There is decreasing opportunity for good jobs for college graduates in general, even though tuition keeps increasing every year. Large numbers of people with college degrees are in jobs well below their education and are showing less satisfaction with their work.
President Obama wants colleges to turn out more math and science majors, but people will only pay for degrees that they think will give them a job. We just can’t ask colleges to produce more science and math students, we have to reverse the causes for the lack of jobs that require science and health majors.
If you add private contractors working for the government, and put pharmaceutical companies and drug stores into the number of medical workers, you account for over 50% of the employment. To fix the US economy, the political and tax structure need to be changed to encourage the growth of industries producing real goods and bringing many jobs that have gone overseas back home.
This is not an easy trend to reverse because the primary impediment is the legal and financial incentives that drive manufacturing out of the United States. This is not just labor unions, safety and environmental regulations. Probably more significant are corporate taxes, the possibility of huge class action lawsuits, and the destructive nature of Wall Street mergers and acquisitions. The primary solution will come from legal and tax reforms by governments, and not demands on the educational institutions, or throwing tax dollars in the wrong direction.
In my book, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Version 4.0, I trace how consolidation of economic and political power, and the collusion between government and special interests have helped drive industry out of the US, and offer a number of suggestions to reverse this trend.
In my previous blog article, I explained how environmentalists are driving industry to the produce in the countries with the greatest pollution because of an unlevel playing field in the global economy. This situation must be recified. One method to help level the field would be to charge tariffs on goods produced in countries that fail to meet environmental or labor standards. This money, rather than cap and trade schemes that penalize the middle class, would be a far greater source of revenue for environmental cleanup than destruction of the middle class which houses the primary concern for the environment. Better “caps” to employ would be caps on legal fees, caps on punitive damage awards, and caps on spending on non-productive bureaucratic agencies.
Throwing Federal tax dollars to stimulate the production of math and science majors will not solve these problems, but exacerbate them. It will steer money to a false problem, thereby wasting it. It will delay solution because people will assume the problem is being addressed. It is a superficial and inappropriate request for a United States President to make, revealing the level of superficiality in government policy. This must be remedied by thoroughly understanding that in this case as many, the solution will be to identify problems correctly, reform the laws that create the problem of industry migration, and enact laws to tax the products of polluters and slave labor users.
Environmentally friendly industry and middle class jobs can be brought back to the United States and restore our deterioriating middle class. This is one of the most serious problems the United States faces and nearly all legislation proposed today is either superficial or counterproductive to the solutions needed.
Nonsense. I myself was a math major. Can’t describe how hard I worked.
Always did a little bit more. The classes were no more than 5-10 students in a class because of the degree of difficulty and amount of study. I have never worked or had a chance to apply more than 5% of my skills. Never worked as a mathematician. Only thing close was as an engineer. Even those opportunities dried up. Only a small percentage of trained people will ever work in mathematics or engineering. Because of the instability of employers many of these careers will not last more than 5-10 years.
End of story.
What did you end of doing for work ? I earned a masters in 1990. I removed my masters from my resume to get work as a clerk . My masters in math kills job opportunities for me. I am considering studying chemistry instead.
I think you are agreeing with my article: that a lack of math and science majors are not the cause of our economic problems.
Yes it is. I totally agree with George. I am also a Math major and I totally see what George is saying. When passing over the 300 level of math, there were only one or two math classes to choose from (when there were around 20 from sociology or art), and only few students on those classes. Who wants to study mathematics when you can make almost the same working as a clerk, on entertainment, sociology, etc?
This country has pampered industries that produce worthless professions for the real world, i.e. the entertainment industry, the music industry, the sports industry, film, extreme sports, etc.
Oops! I forgot one of the biggest industry, the delusional religious industry.