Unemployment and STEM Employment in Utah

Utah’s unemployment rate is now (as of August 2015) tied for the 6th lowest in the country at 3.7 %, behind only Nebraska (2.8%), North Dakota (2.9%), Hawaii (3.5%), New Hampshire (3.6%), and Vermont (3.6%); Utah’s unemployment rate is also substantially lower than the U.S. unemployment rate of 5.1 %.[57] While this is certainly a positive development, much of the state’s job growth is in low skill, low wage areas such as food service, customer service, and retail sales.[58] No Utah city ranks in the top 20 U.S. metropolitan areas with the highest proportion of their workforce employed in high skill, high wage science and engineering occupations.[59] According to the National Science Foundation, only 4.56 % of Utah’s workforce is employed in science and engineering occupations, below the national average of 4.58 %, and substantially unchanged from 2003, when the number was 4.37 %.[60] The states with the highest percentages of workers in science and engineering occupations in 2012 were Colorado, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Virginia.[61]


If the recent economic collapse called attention to anything, it is that postsecondary education provides nearly airtight security against layoffs and unemployment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rates in 2013 by educational attainment levels were the following:[62]

  • Doctoral degree: 2.2%
  • Professional degree: 2.3%
  • Master’s degree: 3.4%
  • Bachelor’s degree: 4.0%
  • Associate’s degree: 5.4%
  • Some college, no degree: 7.0%
  • High school diploma: 7.5%
  • Less than high school diploma: 11.0%

The most recent recession hit the less-well-educated especially hard. “Among both associate degree holders and those with at least a bachelor’s degree, the number of employed adults between the ages of 25 and 64 increased between 2007 and 2012, while employment declined for other groups.”[63]

Those with STEM credentials have an even bigger employment advantage. A comprehensive study, released in 2011 by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and Workforce, projected that the number of STEM jobs nationally would grow by 17 % between 2008 and 2018, “making it one of the most dynamic occupation clusters in the economy. . . . surpassed in growth rates only by Healthcare occupations.”[64] Importantly 65% of the projected STEM jobs will require bachelor’s and graduate degrees, but “there will also be over 799,000 job openings available in STEM occupations for workers with less than a bachelor’s degree.”[65] The National Science Foundation confirms these projections in its most current report:

The most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) occupational projections, for the period 2010-20, suggest that total employment in occupations that NSF classifies as S&E will increase at a faster rate (18.7%) than employment in all occupations (14.3%). . . . BLS also projects that, for the period 2010-20, job openings in NSF-identified S&E occupations will represent a slightly larger proportion of current employment than openings in all other occupations: 39.6% versus 38.3%. Job openings include both growth in total employment and openings caused by attrition.

In addition to S&E occupations, [BLS data] also shows selected other occupations that contain significant numbers of S&E trained workers. Among these, the health care practitioners and technicians occupation, which employs more workers than all S&E occupations combined, is projected to grow at 25.9%, nearly double the rate of growth in all occupations.[66]


[57] National Conference of State Legislatures. State unemployment rates, August 2015. Retrieved from http://www.ncsl.org/research/labor-and-employment/state-unemployment- update.aspx.

[58] Lee, J. (2014, January 6). Utah Department of Workforce Services predicts job growth through 2020. Deseret News. Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865593635/Utah-Department-of-Workforce-Services- predicts-job-growth-through-2020.html?pg=all

[59] National Science Board. (2014). Science and Engineering Indicators. Washington, D.C.: National Science Foundation, Table 3-9. Retrieved from http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind14

[60] Ibid., Table 8-34.

[61] Ibid., Chapter 8.

[62] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2014, March 24).

[63] Baum, S. (2013), 18, emphasis added.

[64] Carnevale, A.P., Smith, N., & Melton, M. (2011). STEM. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from https://georgetown.app.box.com/s/cyrrqbjyirjy64uw91f6

[66] National Science Board. (2014), Chapter 3.