One Key Weakness to Note in the U.S. Job Recovery

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By Jacob Maslow

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The U.S. jobs recovery is real. Let’s get that out of the way. While there is a psychological barrier of 300,000 that was breached for two weeks recently, we are now below that psychological barrier. We are now in an area where economists can be more assured that the U.S. jobs recovery is on solid footing. While a lot has been said about the historically high number of Americans who have totally given up looking for work, we also need to focus on another source of weakness in the jobs recovery.

A lot of the jobs being created are primarily low-wage jobs. We are talking about service jobs – not necessarily McDonald’s server jobs, but close. The pay rate for most jobs being created in America right now are near the low end. This goes a long way in explaining why the median household income in the United States is lower historically. In fact, it is so low that it is at the same level as eight years ago.

This is unheard of in American post-World War II economic history. On a year-to-year basis, wages went up. This is why people moved out when they were 18, to start their own lives and later on to start their own families and buy their own homes. There is a high level of income mobility. This is the reason why millions of people flock to the United States, year after year, from the rest of the world.

That is the real challenge right now. The jobs recovery is stuck. Part of the reason for this is not just the fact that those are the jobs which are mostly available. A key reason for this is that Americans are not getting degrees that are in high demand.

If you want to get paid a lot of money – we are talking about an average starting salary of around $63,000 per year – go into engineering. Unfortunately, the number of Americans going into engineering has remained stagnant. Certain key sectors of engineering, like Petroleum Engineering which guarantees you a starting pay of over $80,000, are going unfilled. There are a lot of very “unsexy” fields in engineering. This is really all too bad.

Another field that pays a lot of money is Computer Science. There is a shortage of math, science and Computer Science people in the United States. In fact, the shortage is so bad that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and other high-tech companies are begging the U.S. government to import more engineers from the rest of the world. They want very loose immigration so they can fill these jobs. These jobs, after all, fuel Silicon Valley and America’s technology base. Why aren’t Americans rushing to get into these fields? Why aren’t Americans drawn by the high pay?

The reason why there isn’t a flood of native-born Americans going into engineering, Computer Science, math, science, and other traditionally unattractive fields is the nerd factor. People don’t want to be called nerds in high school. Also, there is a certain personality that you have to supposedly have to be in those fields. There is also a lot of social stigma. Put all these together and it acts like a major brake for American men to go into these fields, much less American women.

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