Why I care about STEM
If you’re on our newsletter list, you’ve probably heard me mention STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education more than once.
I’ll be the first to admit: it’s not a topic that makes cable news shows or dominates political headlines down in Washington. You probably won’t turn on C-SPAN and find your elected representatives in a heated debate about computer science classes or robotics training.
So from time to time people ask me why I spent so much of my first term talking about this issue in particular. It’s a good question, and I wanted to be sure to share my answer with all of you.
For me, it starts with the numbers. Seventeen percent – that’s how much STEM jobs are expected to grow over the next decade. Eleven percent – that’s how much higher the wages are for workers in STEM fields than in other sectors. Fifty percent – that’s how many of these good-paying jobs don’t require a four-year degree.
In a nutshell, STEM sectors are presenting our workforce with a tremendous opportunity. They are creating a steady stream of solid jobs across every skill level; jobs that working families and recovering communities across the country desperately need.
But there is more to it than that. Despite the enormous economic opportunity at our feet, federal policy around STEM and workforce training has left enormous segments of our population behind. The vast majority of federal funding is channeled towards higher education into four-year degrees, graduate schools and doctorate programs that students from economically distressed communities are often priced out of from the start. That’s all well and good for the upper middle-class families that can easily afford and access our higher education system. But what about the hundreds of thousands of families who can’t?
Vocational schools, community colleges and other workforce training programs are essential vehicles for ensuring kids from every background have access to the skills and education our modern economy requires. They need to be the epicenter, not the afterthought, of our STEM education efforts.
Our country’s traditionally narrow-minded approach to STEM is having a real impact. Today only 26 percent of all STEM jobs in our country are held by women. Thirteen percent are held by Hispanics and African-Americans combined.
And the shortcomings in our workforce training efforts are marginalizing populations that can least afford it. Last year in Massachusetts, the unemployment rate for black and Latino residents was nearly double the state’s overall rate. Alarmingly, that is far from the worst in our country.
That dramatic economic disconnect is the driving force behind a bill I’ve introduced with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand from New York – the STEM Gateways Act. This legislation would help direct federal funds towards STEM programs that specifically target women, minorities and low-income communities.
Click on the video below to hear me talk about the bill on the House Floor, or click here to read an overview.
This is an issue that really matters to me. I would love to hear what you think.