Some groups go underrepresented in STEM education and jobs

We all know how important it is to get an early, strong start in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Unfortunately for some sectors of the population, it is much more difficult to excel in STEM fields because they fall into “underrepresented” groups. For example, women, Latinos, and Africa Americans have fewer STEM education opportunities and are much less often employed in STEM fields.

The Level Playing Field Institute recently published a report entitled Dissecting the Data 2012: Examining STEM Opportunities and Outcomes for Underrepresented Students in California which looks at the progress in STEM of African-Americans and Latinos in the California school systems. The report found that African Americans demonstrate consistently lower proficiency rates in math and science in comparison with their Asian and White peers. Additionally, there are far fewer African-American and Latino students enrolled in AP courses, especially in science and math. The report highlights five recommendations for improving the preparation of underrepresented student for success in STEM field.

  1. Increase training and professional development opportunities for teachers in science and math
  2. Expand programs that develop early interest in STEM among underrepresented groups
  3. Increase access to rigorous and AP courses, especially in math and science
  4. Expand STEM acceleration and pre-college programs
  5. Expand higher education programs that recruit and retain students of color in STEM

A Department of Commerce report released in September 2011 noted that 74 percent of STEM workers are male, 6 percent are Hispanic, 6 percent are African-American, and 14 are Asian-American. Clearly the United States needs to improve its recruitment and training of attracting minorities and women to STEM fields, which STEM workers make 25 more than other fields and only have a 5.5 percent unemployment rate.

Posted by: Devon Thorsell

Sources: The Level Playing Field Institute, Economics and Statistics Administration, Triangle Coalition for Science and Technology Education

Photo credit: 21st Century Classroom courtesy of flickr user Mike @ NW Lens

U.S. Announces Tariffs on Chinese Solar Panels

A New York Times article reported that the U.S. Commerce Department announced on March 20 a decision to impose tariffs on solar panels from China, having concluded that the Chinese government provided export subsidies to manufacturers. U.S. firms that depend on the imports of inexpensive Chinese solar panels were relieved that the tariff rates of 2.9 to 4.73 percent were lower than expected, while American competitors to the Chinese firms were not satisfied. However, the Commerce Department is due to decide in May whether these subsidized Chinese imports can be considered dumping. Should the act of dumping be confirmed, tariff rates will be further increased.

China’s rapidly growing green energy industry is clearly demonstrated by the enormous increase in U.S. imports of Chinese solar panels: from $21.3 million in 2005 to $2.65 billion in 2011. Such a fast rate of growth was made possible in part by government subsidies, which stem from the Chinese government’s concern for greater energy and economic security

The authors noted that some experts have suggested looking at the “trade strategies worked out between the United States and Japan in the 1980s to manage Japan’s rapid rise as an exporter.” However, the plan’s feasibility is unclear because U.S. leverage over Japan at the time was probably greater than U.S. leverage over China today. A trade official offered a different viewpoint – Beijing and Washington need to resolve the situation in a “mutually and globally beneficial way,” instead of taking unilateral action.

Posted By: Pokyee Yu

Sources: The New York Times

Photo Credit: solar panels courtesy of flickr user spanginator

Report: The Competitiveness and Innovative Capacity of the United States

The Commerce Department, in consultation with the National Economic Council, released a report to Congress  today detailing the competitiveness and innovative capacity of the United States.  The report in its entirety can be read here.  The report was required as part of the re-authorization of the America Competes Act signed in January of 2011.

The report argues that innovation is key to America’s continued economic success.  “Innovation is the key driver of competitiveness, wage and job growth, and longterm economic growth.”  In order to best facilitate this innovation, the report identifies three areas in which strategic government investments have been key to unleashing the competitive power of the private sector: “… basic research, education, and infrastructure.”  In addition to those three key pillars the report identifies other areas which have a significant impact on our competitive and innovative capacity: facilitating regional clusters, effective intellectual property regimes, and access to foreign markets are some of the areas named.

Rob Atkinson, President of the ITIF, welcomed the report in a statement, noting that “I hope this is a first step in the process of Washington waking up to the urgent innovation challenge…”

Posted by: Clark Taylor

Sources: Commerce Department, ITIF

Guest Contributor William Krist: Another Huge U.S. Trade Deficit – Should We Be Concerned?

Though slightly down relative to the previous month, the U.S. has once again run up a huge merchandise trade deficit, some $56.9 billion for the month of September, according to Commerce Department data released today.  Our deficits, and the huge trade surpluses run up by some countries, such as China, Germany and Japan, are a threat to the stability of the global trade system.  Our trade deficit is largely funded by foreign purchases of U.S. financial assets, but at some point in the not-too-distant future, according to most economists, we may reach a crisis point where foreign lenders will be reluctant to continue funding our deficit.  At that point interest rates in the U.S. will rise, perhaps precipitously, and the value of the dollar will fall sharply.

Our large trade deficit has two causes.  First, China and some other nations have pegged their currency to the dollar, which prevents the normal exchange system from balancing out as would be expected without government intervention.  Second however, U.S. policies bear a great deal of the blame.  These include our low national savings rate and lack of an energy policy to address our excessive dependence on imported oil.

At its recent meeting, Finance Ministers of the Group of 20 leading nations acknowledged concerns with global trade imbalances, and China has taken a very small step to raise the value of its currency.  However, far more action is needed both internationally and domestically, including a better international consensus on exchange rates and U.S. actions to address our massive government deficit, promote private savings and reduce our dependence on imported oil.  We will know this weekend if the heads of state of the G-20 countries are able to arrive at a better international consensus on exchange rates.

William K Krist is a Senior Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center.  He is a former Senior Vice President of the American Electronics Association.  He has written extensively on trade, development, and the environment. For more information on this topic read his paper ‘The Looming U.S. Trade Crisis.’  Jonathan Bennett is a Research Assistant at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Treasury Department

Photo credit: G20 family photo courtesy of flickr user Downing Street.