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Are There Too Many Ph.D.s And Not Enough Jobs?

NPR | March 11, 2013 5:50 a.m.

Our country needs more people with science, math, and engineering degrees — at least, that is common refrain among politicians and educators.

American students lag behind the rest of the world when it comes to math and science test scores, and the president and others have called for immigration reform that would make it easier for people who immigrate to the United States to get technical degrees to stay in the country permanently.

But job numbers released by the National Science Foundation show that people with PhDs in those technical fields are struggling to find work in their industries.

Jordan Weissmann is an editor at The Atlantic and he’s analyzed the latest job figures from the National Science Foundation. Upon graduation, he says, “PhDs in general have a less than 50 percent chance of having a full-time job, and that percentage has been decreasing for about 20 years.”

Worse yet, as of 2011, approximately one third of people graduating with a doctoral degree in science, technology, math or engineering had no job or post-doctoral offer of any kind.

These figures are not surprising to many young scientists and engineers who are feeling the employment squeeze.

John Choiniere lives in Seattle, and in December he earned a PhD in analytical chemistry. Now, Choiniere is unemployed.

“I really want to be able to support my family, and I thought getting a PhD in chemistry would be a great way to do that, but so far, not a lot of luck with that,” he says.

But, Weissmann says, there is a silver lining: Those who earn PhDs in technical fields are not likely to face chronic, long-term unemployment.

“I think you look at the science and engineering fields in general, and across all age groups they tend to have extremely low unemployment. You know, maybe 3 percent or so,” he says. “I think the question isn’t necessarily unemployment, but underemployment certainly is a very live issue in these fields.”

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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