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Trickle Up Charity

10:51 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

austerity

austerity

It is easy to point at the very rich, the 1%, as recipients of unnecessary charity.  Robert Benmosche, the CEO of AIG, offended many when he compared taxpayer complaints about bonuses paid while his company was receiving a federal bailout to “pitchforks and their hangman nooses.”  Today, Yves Smith writes that Jaimie Dimon had a private audience with US Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss various prosecution activities about JPMorgan and Jaimie Dimon’s role.  By contrast, consider this item about preparing for jail following a peaceful protest.  The posting has special warnings that it may be nearly impossible to obtain critical medications like insulin once in jail.

Privilege for the rich also occurs at lower income levels.  ABCNew publishes that colleges are using funds from children of poor parents to lower costs for more children of more affluent parents through a “shift from need-based aid to merit-based.”  I doubt that there are many merit-based scholarships for hard-working, deserving students from inner-city Detroit or rural South Dakota.  A recent episode of PBS’s “Frontline” called “Football High” about injuries and pressure to perform told about the son of a very successful businessman.  The family could easily afford to send the son to any college or university.  Yet, the son was deeply eager for a football scholarship.

Leaders in the community for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) are concerned about future careers in this area.  Some leaders are wringing their hands or here about scores from the latest SAT college entrances test.  The mathematics and statistics leaders are promoting careers by press release, yet a similar argument based on increasing enrollments asks “Why Haven’t Humanities Ph.D. Programs Collapsed?

US Senator Tammy Baldwin recently held a Google Hangout about “The Next Generation Research Act…to improve opportunities for the next generation of researchers.”  The idea is to help young researchers have a better chance of obtaining funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at this difficult time.  Sounds good, doesn’t it!  Maybe it is.  The NIH already instituted programs years ago to enhance research funding opportunities for first-time grant applicants.  First, chances of funding are extremely difficult now from any federal agency even with excellent publication records, so is it fair to lure young researchers into what may be a dead end?  Also, is this funding for “the best and the brightest” going to benefit only the areas of science most likely to benefit corporations?  The STEM and university community is very good at advertising research 1) with expensive equipment 2) that studies processes likely to result in drugs or other patentable products.  I don’t see this glossy advertising for preventive health work in nutrition, social work, or nursing.  Here’s one good example and another of public benefit research.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin is on the senate budget committee and is a strong supporter of austerity for science (with loopholes for certain expensive types of research) and H-1B visas.  US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Patty Murray share her positions on these issues.  Why encourage “The Best and The Brightest” into an austere future career where any rich person can use the “skills gap” argument to undercut salaries?  Even economist Milton Friedman admitted that H-1B visas were an unnecessary subsidy to US corporations (Hedrick Smith, 2012, Who Stole The American Dream?).
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Admitting the Skills Gap Is a Myth

11:35 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

All Washington, DC is consumed now with using the events in Syria to re-enact some combination of “Wag the Dog” and “Charlie Wilson’s War,” but I prefer to discuss jobs.

I start from the assumption that reasonable investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) can contribute to good STEM jobs as well as good jobs and good quality of life throughout the country. The path is not perfect, but “making stuff” from growing food to improving hospital gurneys is a pillar of our economy and our society.  “Making stuff” is a better enterprise for society than pushing paper through creative banking.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science who publish the journal Science have a specialized periodical Science Careers about the job market (http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org). Recent articles present a science job market that is not so rosy as we might hear from universities, colleges, and our leaders in Washington, DC.

After the LHC, the Deluge

We heard lots of interesting news in the past few months about the search for the long-sought Higgs boson, what some called the ‘God Particle.’ The European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, runs the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and produced 327 master’s and Ph.D. theses last year.  “In contrast, the INSPIRE Web site, a database for particle physics, currently lists 124 postdocs worldwide in experimental high-energy physics, the sort of work LHC grads have trained for.” Postdocs are temporary positions of typically 1-3 years that were not required 30 years ago, but are required for new PhDs throughout most sciences now in their career path toward more long-term employment. One of the recent physics PhDs says what might come from any recent STEM graduate at any degree level “I think the senior people, they actually think that if you work very hard, you’ll make it, because they made it.”

The ‘S’ in STEM is Oversold

A report on the employment experience of college graduates in five U.S. states observed that employers are far more selective than we thought.  Some biology graduates are now paid less than English majors, a group that is historically very poorly paid. Chemistry majors make a bit more, but not as much as other STEM graduates such as engineers.

So, how do the professional societies view the situation?

Robert N. Charette writes in IEEE Spectrum, an important news periodical for electrical engineers and computer scientists, “The STEM Crisis Is a Myth: Forget the dire predictions of a looming shortfall of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.” “Even as the Great Recession slowly recedes, STEM workers at every stage of the career pipeline, from freshly minted grads to mid- and late-career Ph.D.s, still struggle to find employment as many companies, including Boeing, IBM, and Symantec, continue to lay off thousands of STEM workers.”

The Government & Policy Department at Chemical & Engineering News from the American Chemical Society writes “Unemployment among U.S. scientists raises new doubts about the need for more foreign researchers.”

The Mathematical Association of American and the American Statistical Association are engaged in strong advocacy for training more students to pursue “careers” in mathematics and statistics. The American Statistical Association thinks the path to more jobs for statisticians is through Big Data.

The difference between the statements from the IEEE and American Chemical Association vs. the American Statistical Association and Mathematics Association of America is a combination of actual job market analysis compared to senior professionals worrying about the supply of students in their classes and maintaining cheap labor such as graduate students and postdocs. It is interesting that the statisticians who support Big Data (such as market surveillance and Hollywood analytical mistakes tend to view the market for statisticians by looking at the size of their classes instead of studying salaries that haven’t risen in a decade or other measures that better measure how truly desperate are the US corporations that keep chanting they cannot find enough qualified job applicants.

It is interesting to watch the current tragic spectacle about Syria where legislators and the mainstream media desperately ignore the calls and email messages from their constituents that run sometimes 100:1 against a new war in Syria because the public realizes that the discussion about chemical weapons is tragic, but also misdirection. We’ve just spent several months being misdirected about immigration reform because the topic of H-1B visas was carefully excluded from the news, while legitimately sympathetic stories about DREAMers and exploited workers who crossed the Arizona desert are used to distract us from the H-1B payload. It all gets messy. Read the rest of this entry →

Sequestration and Science

7:25 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

NASA Goddard Science Jamboree 20Sam Stein at the Huffington Post wrote a piece about the effects of sequestration on science in the USA. The article has interviews with leaders of several science research groups that have promising new ideas and technologies. Most of the examples are from basic research in health sciences.

The concerns are real. The examples are real. Yet, this sort of article typically cherry-picks a few examples most likely to result in products. Research is also about better nursing so that patients comply with long-term treatment strategies and will benefit from the shiny new surgical operation. Research is about a health survey to canvas a state with personal contacts to provide better guidance for policy makers. Research is about how to reduce childhood obesity when the main decision-maker is a homeless single mother working at low-wage jobs with irregular schedules needing a car because there is no public transportation to the available employment. Research is about better methods of inspecting bridges to maintain safety; this research itself may be relatively inexpensive so the university has little enthusiasm, but the research could save large amounts of money for repair and planning budgets. The article by Sam Stein is helpful, but only grabs the most shiny toys with the best profit potential.

Paula Stephan wrote How Economics Shapes Science (2012, Harvard University Press) based on her 30 years of studying science funding. One reviewer summarizes an important section:

Perhaps the most interesting story in this story-packed book is the tale of the years 1998-2002, when the NIH budget doubled. This vast influx of funding had many unanticipated and some unproductive outcomes:

  • Success rates for R01 grant applications didn’t rise, and in fact fell significantly by 2009
  • Universities used the funding to justify a building binge, partly to lure prime faculty and partly to create capacity for the anticipated grants
  • Grants grew in size, and absorbed more costs, like graduate student tuitions and other overheads
  • The short-term nature of the doubling, combined with the long-term nature of the resulting grant commitments, created a dearth of money in subsequent years, as funding fell yet remained tied to previous commitments
  • The NIH took monies away from R01 grant-making during the expansion to pursue other, larger initiatives
  • Younger researchers suffered more, as renewing grants did better overall during both the funding boom and the subsequent cuts
  • The number of papers resulting from the doubling of NIH funding remained stubbornly unaffected — as one study put it, “Wherever the funds went, they left no clear scientific record.”

So, where do we go? Democrats want us to blame the Sequester on the Republicans, but budget cuts are a major feature of the budget passed out of the Democratic-led US Senate. The budget committee in the US Senate is led by so-called progressives like US Senators Patty Murray and Tammy Baldwin. Yet their budget makes cuts throughout with no guarantees for traditional Democratic priorities like Social Security and Medicare, or science.

Sam Stein writes:

The problem, Antonsen said, was not just how the lack of funding would impact graybeards like himself, but also the newcomers to the field. Young scientists who had spent 12 years studying for their PhDs would find the climate inhospitable, and future generations would look elsewhere.

“We used to be able to tell people that there was some kind of job security,” he said. “That would be a compensation for not being paid as much. Now, if you are taking a big risk in investing 12 years of your life to learn how to do the science, people will think twice.”

Remember how Senator Patty Murray holds hearings about the impact of budget cuts on ordinary US citizens, but only after championing an austerity budget for President Obama? US Senator Amy Klobuchar held a hearing on long-term unemployment after she introduced a tsunami of H-1B visas for high tech jobs which strongly promotes age discrimination and increases job competition in an already difficult market for scientists. US Senator Tammy Baldwin is their close colleague in all these decisions. H-1B visas are their gift to the science community to hold down wages for junior scientists which were never very high. Holding down wages makes it easier to continue science with little money, but it really doesn’t encourage anyone to pursue a career.

Our leaders in science and business claim a shortage of students entering science degree programs. Sam Stein quotes a researcher in his article.

“I wouldn’t advise people to go into science,” he said. “I think it’s a tough career to follow. It’s not the career that I thought it was, or that it was for me a couple of years ago.”

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Unemployment Deniers

12:30 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

This morning I saw a newscast on CNN about President Obama’s request to the US Congress to extend his executive order for Dream Act youth to allow them to pursue their lives here and avoid having their families torn apart by deportation.  It was a very sympathetic newscast and I share the concern.

Yet none of the news networks covers the issue of H-1B visas and unemployment for those US citizens with training in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics: not CNN or cable, not PBS or broadcast, not NPR, not Democracy Now!, not newspapers either.  These reporters want our support, but they ignore their audience.

There are other sources and experts like Prof. Norman Matloff, Prof. Peter Cappelli, and a whole chapter by Hedrick Smith in “Who Stole the American Dream?”.  How does importing someone from China or India with mediocre skills to take my job provide any help or comfort to a youth from Venezuela or a hard-working nanny from Mexico?

What is the difference between all the politicians and newscasters who ignore and outright deny the current high rates of unemployment including high, long-term unemployment for graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics compared to the on-going climate deniers who still get plenty of attention by the news?

“If they can can get you asking the wrong questions, then they don’t have to worry about the answers. [character written by Thomas Pynchon]“

A Pause in Austerity and H-1B Visas

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

 

Do I see rats leaving a sinking ship?

The Center for American Progress, a pillar of the Democratic establishment in Washington is walking away from the broad negotiations aimed at reaching a “grand bargain,” the pursuit of a deficit-reduction deal that has dominated the political agenda since mid-2010 [Huffington Post].

The timing of this US announcement is soon after the International Monetary Fund admits that it was wrong about Greek debt which was the model for justifying austerity in order to bail out reckless investments by European banks.  Yet, the fears of “systemic contagion” across Europe sound a lot like the goal of former US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner “foaming the runway” for US banks with a government bailout after our mortgage crash.  Will the change of heart on the US “grand bargain” persuade leading Democrats like US Senator Patty Murray to stop worshiping Larry Summers and stop the proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  Are there any Democrats in the US Congress that have clearly and loudly opposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare?  Some leading Democrats are even voting down Food Stamps!

Another slight of hand on jobs:  Marco Rubio might change his mind on “a path to citizenship.”  So, immigration reform was never really about helping hard-working Mexicans, nor about Dream Act Youth going to college, nor about uniting gay couples.  The veils are falling.  Instead, immigration reform was always about creating a tsunami of H-1B visas.

This influx of additional workers comes when the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are planning for serious losses in funding.  The linked article indicates that the NIH might not itself lose jobs, but you can expect serious problems at research universities that rely on federal funding.  I won’t defend the details of those numbers.  For example, the funds/number of grants looks rather high, and maybe our country should better consider the science job market when awarding grants that depend on hiring graduate students and Post-Docs.

Maybe the Democrats in the US Congress view these H-1B visas as “tools” for President Obama’s budget cuts.  When Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker first mentioned his proposed cuts to schools and municipalities, he promised “tools.”  He gave them new laws to help the local leaders undercut unions so the schools and municipalities could better live within their newly reduced budgets.  Maybe the Democrats in the US Congress (and President Obama) view all these H-1B visas as tools to help faculty at research universities better live within the increasingly severe budget cuts.  H-1B visas depress wages, promote a more coercive workplace, and facilitate age discrimination.  The “tools” for local governments also took money out of local economies.  The H-1B visas will discourage US students, especially the good students.  The image of a bad job market will take long to recover if the job market changes.

At least science students are now receiving a consistent message in that the federal sequester greatly reduces the opportunities to train in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), and the proposed tsunami of H-1B visas at the same time makes it clear that the US Congress (especially Democrats) and corporations only want the cheapest labor possible.  So the truly “best and brightest” are directed to other careers.  They may avoid the age discrimination promoted by H-1B visas.

I was heartened to watch this video clip where Cenk Uygur questions whether Democrats really, truly feel pressure from the Left in the same way at Republicans feel from the corporate funded Tea Party.

H-1B: connecting the dots

8:46 am in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

Visa

Visa

The mainstream media was exceptionally quiet this week about immigration reform.  Summaries last Friday and over the weekend about immigration reform by the usual talking heads conveniently omitted any discussion of high skill visas (H-1B).  Usually, they at least included a sentence about how H-1B visas are necessary to growing our economy, omitting any supporting evidence.   For example, they do not talk to The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) which generally supports a path to citizenship, but opposes some of the H-1B proposals that could import non-citizens comparable to 10% of the US engineering workforce.

Recently,  US Senator Amy Klobuchar chaired hearings on long-term unemployment for which she received well deserved respect.  Yet, she is the same senator who first introduced the provision to greatly increase the number of H-1B visas which compete with existing US workers for jobs.  Any discussion of immigration reform before this proposal was about DREAM Act Youth and poor Mexicans crossing the Arizona desert.  The competition from H-1B visas for good middle-class jobs is especially noticeable for older workers over 50 years old, but even for those 35 years old in Silicon Valley.   There was recent news coverage about the sharp increase in rates of long-term unemployment and rates of suicide among those over 50 years old.

The situation is a lot like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership which promise jobs, but mostly deliver hardship and more corporate control.  It’s unfortunate that celebrated progressives like US Senators Amy Klobuchar, Tammy Baldwin, and Patty Murray are all advocates of more H-1B visas and more austerity in government (bipartisan debt reduction).  Is that what Emily’s List means now?  As posted before:  “Dear Left, Enjoy Your Pot and Gay Marriage Because That’s All You’re Getting
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Austerity for STEM Jobs

12:36 pm in Uncategorized by anotherquestion

National austerity economics is rightly criticized now for relying on the shoddy analyses in the Reinhart-Rogoff paper.  The claimed skill shortage and pressure for more H-1B visas is even worse because it is not even based on a published paper.  News reporters confidently parrot that importing more high skill workers is important to building the US economy.  The topic is graduates of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).   Who is really the “best and the brightest”?  Do employers seek skills they cannot find locally or are the employers just looking for cheaper labor that is easier to exploit?  Professor Norm Matloff at the University of California-Davis writes “No study, other than those sponsored by the industry, has ever shown a shortage.”  This week, a new study of the recent labor market has again shown that there is no shortage.  Here is the article at Slashdot, in the Washington Post, and the original report.

Key findings include:

  • Guestworkers may be filling as many as half of all new IT jobs each year
  • IT workers earn the same today as they did, generally, 14 years ago
  • Currently, only one of every two STEM college graduates is hired into a STEM job each year
  • Policies that expand the supply of guestworkers will discourage U.S. students from going into STEM, and into IT in particular

Funny how the Washington Post identifies the Economic Policy Institute as “Left Leaning,” but has no such labels for pro-corporation, right-leaning groups, like the authors of the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. Read the rest of this entry →