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Chapter 3. Science and Engineering Labor Force


Growth of the U.S. S&E workforce continues to exceed that of the overall workforce. However, the 2000–07 period showed the smallest growth rate (2.2%) in S&E occupations since NSF began tracking these data in the 1950s. Although the U.S. recession that began in 2007 affected workers across all occupations, S&E occupations appear to be less severely affected. The unemployment rate in April 2009 was 9.0% for all workers, but 4.3% for those working in S&E occupations. The influence of the recession on longer-term S&E labor force behavior (e.g. retirement rates, part- and full-time employment) remains to be seen.

A large and growing number of Americans hold degrees in S&E fields; in 2006, 16.6 million individuals in the U.S. workforce held at least one S&E degree. Individuals in S&E occupations are highly educated, with more than 70% holding at least a bachelor's degree in any field; in contrast, less than 30% of persons working in all other occupations hold a bachelor's or higher degree. Workers in S&E occupations also received higher wages than those in other occupations.

The globalization of the S&E labor force continues to increase. The number of people with S&E is skills rising, especially in developing nations, and the location of S&E employment is becoming more internationally diverse. S&E workers are becoming more internationally mobile. These trends reinforce each other: as R&D spending and business investment cross national borders in search of available talent, talented people cross borders in search of interesting and lucrative work, and employers recruit and move employees internationally.

The growth rate of the S&E labor force would be significantly reduced if the United States became less successful in the increasing international competition for scientists and engineers. Compared with the United States, many other countries are more actively reducing barriers to highly skilled immigrants entering their labor markets. Nonetheless, the United States is still an attractive destination for many foreign scientists and engineers.


Science and Engineering Indicators 2010   Arlington, VA (NSB 10-01) | January 2010