Tech Job Openings Remain High, But Congress Is Not Taking Action

New data on job openings in the United States show the lack of workers to fill technology-related jobs continues, contributing to inflation and the production of fewer goods and services in the economy. The new data come soon after Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) blocked efforts to provide more employment-based green cards for high-skilled foreign nationals.

The number of job vacancy postings in computer occupations in America exceeds 804,000, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of data from Lightcast Job Posting Analytics (formerly Emsi).

The data show over 326,000 job vacancy postings in the U.S. for software developers (and software quality assurance analysts), 64,712 postings for computer systems analysts, 57,307 for database administrators, 44,073 for information security analysts, 40,492 for electrical engineers and nearly 300,000 job vacancies in various other computer occupations (as of September 22, 2022.) The numbers (unique job postings) likely underestimate job openings since employers do not post every opening or may abandon listings for positions that remain open too long.

The unemployment rate in computer and math occupations was a low 2.3% in August 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That follows an average unemployment rate of 2.4% in 2021 for computer and math occupations. The unemployment rate for architecture and engineering occupations was 1.9% in August 2022.

U.S. professionals in computer fields earn higher salaries than nearly all Americans except for professional athletes, doctors, lawyers and a few other professions. The median earnings of IT (information technology) professionals were 40% higher than the median earnings of other professionals between 2002 and 2020, according to data on U.S.-born workers analyzed by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at the University of North Florida and formerly an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

The policy question is simple: Would America benefit from more open policies to admit highly skilled foreign-born individuals to work in computer and information science, engineering and other technical fields? Analysts have found people with a poor grasp of economics or an aversion to people born in other countries would answer “no.”

Mark Regets, a labor economist and an NFAP senior fellow, notes that there is overwhelming evidence of high employer demand for people with technical skills, but that ultimately it is not fruitful to debate whether there is a shortage or surplus of computer specialists, scientists and engineers. “Markets tend to clear, and it is in all of our interests that we have more high-skilled individuals that contribute to a high level of research and development and business creation.”

Regets explains that admitting more high-skilled professionals (and more workers at all skill levels) would benefit the United States in multiple ways. “We are still re-inventing how we do things in this economy after Covid, and technical skills are particularly needed for that redesign,” he said in an interview. “But in addition to that, reductions in immigration have been a huge supply shock to the economy. Inflation occurs when the demand for goods and services grows faster than supply. Increasing our ability to produce is the least painful way to control inflation. Increasing the supply of labor increases production, but immigrants also adapt to our needs in ways that add dynamism to the economy.”

Due to the lack of employment-based immigrant visas, an H-1B petition is often the only practical way for a high-skilled foreign national to work long-term in the United States. Congress has not increased the annual limit on H-1B visa levels since 2004. As a result, the supply of H-1B visas has been exhausted for the past 20 consecutive fiscal years.

In April 2022, the annual limit of, in effect, 85,000 new H-1B visas for employers—about 0.05% of the U.S. labor force—caused U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to reject about 400,000 (80% of) applicants for new H-1B petitions. Since only about 56,000 new H-1B petitions are in computer occupations annually, that means there are about 14 times more job vacancy postings in computer occupations (804,344) as new H-1B petitions used by companies in computer occupations in a given year (even adopting a zero-sum approach).

Despite what economists see as the significant benefits to the United States of immigrants with technical skills, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) stopped the inclusion of a key immigration measure in the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which became law on August 9, 2022. Grassley blocked an exemption from annual green card limits and backlogs for foreign nationals with a Ph.D. in STEM fields and those with a master’s degree “in a critical industry.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) gave Grassley, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, a veto, in practice, over any immigration measure in the bill. During a House-Senate conference committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) urged the Senate to accept the House’s measures, which included a startup visa for immigrant entrepreneurs. The Biden administration, businesses and universities hoped at least the exemption for individuals with Ph.D.s in STEM fields would become law.

Economists note members of Congress cannot repeal the law of supply and demand, which means employers will likely continue to find it difficult to hire enough scientists and engineers for their businesses to innovate and grow in the United States.

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