The feasibility factor – when a wage-mismatch stifles STEM…

In a recent post, Jared Bernstein gave voice to an issue that I have long been concerned about:  the feasibility of many STEM career tracks.  With all the hand-wringing about STEM, the facts surrounding wage stagnation and even depression are being blithely ignored. Everyone is bemoaning the so-called “skills-mismatch” without considering whether the salaries being offered are commensurate or even doable given the required years and cost of training for these careers.  Education is expensive and the “numbers” have to work for people to even bother entering certain career tracks.

The life sciences, where I used to hang my career hat, ceased being feasible for all practical purposes in the early 2000s. Budget cuts for academia as well as outsourcing  and insourcing combined in a perfect storm that has a created a blood bath in biotech and academia.

In Jared Bernstein’s recent post “I Can’t Find Enough Skilled Workers! (At the Crappy Wage I’m Offering…)” the title pretty much says it all.  We don’t so much have a skills-mismatch as a wage-mismatch.   In this particular piece Bernstein offers as an example airline pilots.

When one thinks of salaries for airline pilots, we all seem to start with 6 figures.  After all, they are operating a massive machine that requires a great deal of technical knowledge, skill and experience. Many lives are in their hands and there is a good deal of risk involved in the field.  Just ask the families of the pilots who were attacked on September 11, 2001 about that.

But no, the starting salaries at 14 regional US carriers started at $22,400!  That’s right – less than $25,000…Flipping burgers at McDonald’s makes more sense when you consider the time, money and training that is involved in becoming an airline pilot.

This is obviously an extreme example of creating a race to the bottom, but that’s what makes it an outstanding example of how we have  wage-mismatches are springing up all over the place.  There is also an obvious safety undercurrent.  When we start paying airline pilots the wages of fast food workers, how long does it take for planes to start falling out of the sky?  Certainly the feat accomplished by Sully Sullenberger is unlikely to happen when a pilot making less than $25,000/year is at the controls.

Taking this a step further – this specific situation  is also a paradigm for what is happening in many other fields where top-drawer technological skills and extensive education is required.  The cost of living, the time, the training, the education involved simply do not square with  feasibility when people number-crunch the potential of specific career/education track.

When this happens in fields requiring a great deal of training and education and fields where discovery, invention and innovation are at the forefront, you risk forever stagnating progress.  American exceptionalism be damned.  People have to earn a living.  Innovation and invention only occur when it is feasible to innovate or invent.

© 2014 – RGHicks –  – All rights reserved.


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One Response to The feasibility factor – when a wage-mismatch stifles STEM…

  1. Ruthmarie says:

    Someone asked if they could quote my articles, and the answer is yes absolutely. Just provide a link back to my site.

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