Economic Recovery, Science, and Earning a Living
Science is a wonderful thing if one does not have to earn one’s living at it. ~Albert Einstein
ARRA and You (Part III): Employment, Economic Recovery and the Research Sector. As I continue to discuss the broad impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, I must take issue with Einstein’s observation quoted above. In fact, there are critics of the ARRA who make light of the idea that one part of the American economy that the Act is stimulating is the science and research sector. Denying the significant contribution of this sector to the economy is simply a refusal to face facts. This is an observation I also made in an previous post. There is serious labor economics at work here. The National Science Foundation’s (NSF) biennial report Science and Engineering Indicators, 2006 (the most current available) concluded,
“Although workers with science and engineering skills still make up only a fraction of the total U.S. civilian labor force, their effect on society belies their numbers. These workers contribute enormously to technological innovation and economic growth, research, and increased knowledge. Workers with S&E skills include technicians and technologists, researchers, educators, and managers. In addition, many others with S&E training use their skills in a variety of nominally non-S&E occupations (such as writers, salesmen, financial managers, and legal consultants), and many niches in the labor market require them to interpret and use S&E knowledge.”
This sector is so vital that more countries have created their own science and technology infrastructure to attract investment dollars and talent. (For some scientists, that has meant returning home to India, China, or southeast Asia after having remained in the US upon earning a PhD in a science or engineering discipline.)
In one example, during 2004, the South Korean government sponsored a greater percentage of research than the US (see 7-11 above). More importantly, these trends reinforce one another. The resulting impact on the US economy has been significant. Because research and development spending has been crossing borders internationally, business and investment spending has also crossed these borders. Talented scientist have crossed borders internationally in search of intellectually and financially fulfilling work, which has been less and less available within the US in the face of the 8 year hiatus on federal funding for stem cell research and decreasing trends in federal funding of research, in general. It makes good economic sense to refuel American investment in research and development, to retain or reclaim that business and investment spending that has wandered internationally.
The science and engineering sector continues to grow (see 3-05 below) and continues to be the place where jobs will be found. The NSF report noted, “employment in S&E occupations in the 1990s continued to grow by 3 to 4 times the growth of other jobs.” Like, manufacturing, scientific research is a solid foundation upon which an economy can be built. The financial industry must ultimately be based upon something tangible like the products yielded from science and research, such as computers, medical diagnostic equipment, or genetically engineered insulin. Another reason the ARRA investment in the science and research sector makes good sense can be found within the trends describing scientists’ age. The number of people with science and engineering degrees currently living and working in America expected to reach retirement age is increasing substantially. At the same time, the number earning these degrees and entering the workforce has slowed. The result could be diminished US success against the increasing international competition discussed earlier. Hopefully, the capital infused into the American science and engineering sector will stave off this threat for a generation while we improve our science, technology, engineering and math education and convince more American youth just how rewarding careers in science and technology can be.
Using the ARRA to stimulate the research sectors is good for the economy. But what exactly are some of the areas that scientists in the health and biomedical sectors are researching? Again, we can look at the ARRA to see what new priorities have been set and we will do so in future posts:
- Challenge Grant Research Priorities
- Comparative Effectiveness Research
- Preventive Health Interventions
National Science Board. 2006. Science and Engineering Indicators 2006. Two volumes [Electronic Version]. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation (volume 1, NSB 06-01; volume 2, NSB 06-01A). Available at<http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/>
National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics
Universities Report Continued Decline in Real Federal S&E R&D Funding in FY 2007. Arlington, VA (NSF 08-320) [August 2008]. Available at <http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf08320/>