This is part of a series of PRB articles about the science and engineering workforce in the United States, funded by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional state and metropolitan area data on the S&E labor force are available in PRB's 2007 U.S. Population Data Sheet. Data for this article are based on the Population Reference Bureau's analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey.

(September 2007) A new database created by the Population Reference Bureau reveals geographic differences in characteristics of people working in the science and engineering (S&E) labor force. The data, from the Census Bureau's 2005 American Community Survey, highlight state-level variations in earnings, education, and the participation of minorities, women, and foreign-born workers in the high-tech economy.

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The Share of Scientists and Engineers Vary Widely by State

Scientists and engineers are an attractive commodity for state policymakers. With their masters degrees, doctorates, and paychecks nearly twice the national average, people in the S&E labor force can boost tax revenue, housing values, and consumption on goods and services in the communities where they live and work. In 2005, the median annual earnings for people in S&E occupations were $59,000, compared with $28,000 for people in all occupations nationwide.

Nationwide, there were 7.4 million scientists and engineers in the United States in 2005, representing 5 percent of the total labor force. However, the concentration of scientists and engineers varies significantly in different parts of the country. Some states—particularly those in the Midwest and South—are struggling to compete in the increasingly high-tech economy, while other states are flourishing.

In 2005, states with the highest proportions of scientists and engineers were Maryland (8 percent), Colorado, Massachusetts, Virginia, and Washington (7 percent each).1 These states are primarily "importers" of high tech workers: They recruit highly skilled workers from the rest of the United States and from other countries to fill jobs in information technology, engineering, the physical and life sciences, and other parts of the high-tech economy.2

States with the smallest share of S&E workers were Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Wyoming, at 3 percent each. These states have difficulty attracting or retaining highly skilled workers, in part because of a shortage of job opportunities for individuals with bachelors or post-graduate degrees.

Science and Engineering Earnings Linked to Education

In 2005, Maryland and New Jersey had the highest median science and engineering earnings, at $70,000 each. In contrast, median S&E earnings in the Dakotas were just over $40,000. These differences reflect the variable cost of living, especially housing costs, in different parts of the United States. But they also relate to the types of S&E jobs available in Maryland and New Jersey. In both states, demand for information technology (IT) workers is high, compared to the Plains states, where a disproportionate share of jobs are in agricultural science.

Earnings for scientists and engineers are also closely linked to education. In New Jersey, nearly three-fourths of the S&E workforce had a bachelor's degree or higher in 2005, and median earnings in that state were $25,000 higher than those of Mississippi, where only 50 percent of the S&E labor force held at least a bachelor's degree (see table).


Educational Attainment and Earnings for Scientists and Engineers, 2005

  Percent with a bachelor's degree or higher Median earnings
Top states    
Massachusetts 76 $64,820
New Jersey 73 $70,195
California 71 $66,221
New York 71 $59,213
Connecticut 71 $63,626
Bottom states    
Oklahoma 54 $47,561
Nevada 54 $51,696
West Virginia 53 $50,461
Mississippi 50 $44,459

Source: PRB analysis of the 2005 American Community Survey.


Geographic Differences in Minority and Foreign-Born Participation

In 2005, racial and ethnic minorities accounted for about one-fourth (26 percent) of the U.S. science and engineering labor force. But the minority share of the S&E labor force varied widely across states, from less than 5 percent in North Dakota and Wyoming to 58 percent in Hawaii and 45 percent in California. In Maryland and New Jersey—which have high concentrations of S&E workers—the minority shares of the S&E labor force also exceeded the national average (35 percent and 39 percent, respectively vs. a national average of 26 percent.)

African Americans accounted for relatively large shares of the S&E labor force in Georgia (19 percent) and Maryland (18 percent). New Mexico had the highest proportion of S&E jobs filled by Latinos (22 percent), followed by Florida (14 percent) and Texas (13 percent). And Asians, who made up 4 percent of the total labor force but 13 percent of scientists and engineers nationwide, accounted for 29 percent of the S&E labor force in California and 25 percent of S&E workers in New Jersey.

In some states, the foreign-born population also makes up a sizeable—and growing—share of the S&E workforce. In California and New Jersey, more than a third of the S&E labor force was foreign-born in 2005. Many of these are skilled workers from China or India who were recruited to work in America's high-tech firms. Nearly one-fourth of people working in the life and physical sciences were foreign-born in 2005, compared to roughly one in ten people working in the social sciences.

Gender Differences

Nationwide, only one-fourth of science and engineering jobs are held by women, but states vary in the female share of the S&E labor force. In Maryland and Rhode Island, nearly a third of scientists and engineers were women in 2005 (32 percent), and in the District of Columbia, 44 percent of the S&E labor force was female. Females accounted for the smallest share of S&E workers in Utah (19 percent), followed by Idaho, Oklahoma, and Wyoming (21 percent each).

In 2005, women made up more than half of all social scientists (56 percent) but the female shares of IT workers (26 percent) and engineers (13 percent) were much lower. Women are still underrepresented in the highest-paying positions, especially in the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, and engineering. Closing the gender gap in these occupations is one way to ensure a strong and competitive U.S. economy.

This new database will serve as a resource for a wide range of individuals and organizations:

  • Policymakers, journalists, and the general public.
  • Researchers and professional associations that monitor trends in the S&E workforce.
  • College undergraduates who are deciding on graduate school paths—between different science and engineering concentrations, and between S&E and other career paths.
  • Private employers who may face staff retirements and want to learn more about the local supply of technical workers, by field, in their geographic area.

Mark Mather is deputy director of domestic programs at the Population Reference Bureau.


References

  1. In the District of Columbia, 9 percent of the labor force was in S&E occupations.
  2. Mark Mather, "Is There a U.S. Shortage of Scientists and Engineers? It Depends Where You Live," accessed online at www.prb.org/Articles/2006/IsThereaUSShortageofScientistsandEngineersItDependsWhereYouLive.aspx, on Sept. 10, 2007.