Falling Behind?: Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent

Falling Behind?: Boom, Bust, and the Global Race for Scientific Talent

by Michael S. Teitelbaum


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How the fear of a shortage in American science talent fuels cycles in the technical labor market

Is the United States falling behind in the global race for scientific and engineering talent? Are U.S. employers facing shortages of the skilled workers that they need to compete in a globalized world? Such claims from some employers and educators have been widely embraced by mainstream media and political leaders, and have figured prominently in recent policy debates about education, federal expenditures, tax policy, and immigration. Falling Behind? offers careful examinations of the existing evidence and of its use by those involved in these debates.

These concerns are by no means a recent phenomenon. Examining historical precedent, Michael Teitelbaum highlights five episodes of alarm about "falling behind" that go back nearly seventy years to the end of World War II. In each of these episodes the political system responded by rapidly expanding the supply of scientists and engineers, but only a few years later political enthusiasm or economic demand waned. Booms turned to busts, leaving many of those who had been encouraged to pursue science and engineering careers facing disheartening career prospects. Their experiences deterred younger and equally talented students from following in their footsteps—thereby sowing the seeds of the next cycle of alarm, boom, and bust.

Falling Behind? examines these repeated cycles up to the present, shedding new light on the adequacy of the science and engineering workforce for the current and future needs of the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691154664
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 03/30/2014
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Michael S. Teitelbaum is a Wertheim Fellow in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and senior advisor to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation in New York. Until 2011 he was vice president of the Sloan Foundation. His previous books include The Global Spread of Fertility Decline, A Question of Numbers, The Fear of Population Decline, and The British Fertility Decline.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii
Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Recent Alarms 7
Chapter 2 No Shortage of Shortages 25
Chapter 3 Beliefs, Interests, Effects 70
Chapter 4 The Influence of Employer and Other Interest Groups 87
Chapter 5 What Is the Market Really Like? Supply, Demand, Shortage, Surplus—and Disequilibria 118
Chapter 6 The Distinctive U.S. Academic Production Process 155
Chapter 7 International Comparisons: Glass Half-Full, Glass Half-Empty? 172
Chapter 8 Making Things Work Better 189
Appendix A Controversy about the Meaning of Sputnik 217
Appendix B Evolution of the National Institutes of Health 219
Appendix C "A Nation at Risk" and the Sandia Critique 221
Notes 225
Index 255

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Detailing the varied interests driving science and engineering workforce policy, Falling Behind? demonstrates that unfortunately, scores of high-skilled workers have been on the losing end of failed education and immigration agendas. This book provides critical analysis and an opportunity to change the dialogue for these issues."—Paul E. Almeida, DPE AFL-CIO

"Teitelbaum presents an insightful and engaging history of the events and forces behind the boom-and-bust cycles experienced by America's scientific workforce, while analyzing the policies and politics behind them and the connection to contemporary debates over high-skilled immigration. Falling Behind? makes it clear there has been scant evidence to support the alarming claims of labor shortages in scientific occupations made over the past six decades."—Daniel Costa, Economic Policy Institute

"Falling Behind? thoroughly documents how vested interests take advantage of inadequate data and faulty analyses to exaggerate science and engineering labor shortages, producing boom-and-bust cycles that distort these important labor markets. This valuable book outlines measures to moderate these destructive cycles."—Ray Marshall, University of Texas, Austin

"Filled with fascinating anecdotes and information about U.S. policy toward the science and engineering workforce, this powerful book shows that officials, industry lobbyists, and leading members of the scientific establishment have time and again tried to make the case that the United States needs more scientists and engineers when there is no evidence of this. With verve and clarity, Falling Behind? raises the level of discourse on science workforce issues."—Richard Freeman, Harvard University

"Falling Behind? brings balance to the argument often put forward by special interest groups that the United States faces a shortage of scientists and engineers. It addresses the propensity of American interest groups to declare a crisis regarding the size and competency of the technical workforce, the government's response to such declarations, and the ensuing results. This book offers a refreshing and unique perspective."—Paula Stephan, Georgia State University and the National Bureau of Economic Research

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