POSTED BY MARTIN KICH
The following excerpts are from Ben Tarnoff’s article, “Tech’s Push to Teach Coding Isn’t about Kid’s Success—It’s about Cutting Wages,” which has been published in The Guardian in September:
Computer science courses for children have proliferated rapidly in the past few years. A 2016 Gallup report found that 40% of American schools now offer coding classes – up from only 25% a few years ago. . . .
The rationale for this rapid curricular renovation is economic. Teaching kids how to code will help them land good jobs, the argument goes. In an era of flat and falling incomes, programming provides a new path to the middle class–-a skill so widely demanded that anyone who acquires it can command a livable, even lucrative, wage.
This narrative pervades policymaking at every level, from school boards to the government. Yet it rests on a fundamentally flawed premise. Contrary to public perception, the economy doesn’t actually need that many more programmers. As a result, teaching millions of kids to code won’t make them all middle-class. Rather, it will proletarianize the profession by flooding the market and forcing wages down–-and that’s precisely the point.
At its root, the campaign for code education isn’t about giving the next generation a shot at earning the salary of a Facebook engineer. It’s about ensuring those salaries no longer exist, by creating a source of cheap labor for the tech industry. . . .
Our educational system has long been producing more programmers than the labor market can absorb. A study by the Economic Policy Institute found that the supply of American college graduates with computer science degrees is 50% greater than the number hired into the tech industry each year. For all the talk of a tech worker shortage, many qualified graduates simply can’t find jobs.
More tellingly, wage levels in the tech industry have remained flat since the late 1990s. Adjusting for inflation, the average programmer earns about as much today as in 1998. If demand were soaring, you’d expect wages to rise sharply in response. Instead, salaries have stagnated.
Still, those salaries are stagnating at a fairly high level. The Department of Labor estimates that the median annual wage for computer and information technology occupations is $82,860 – more than twice the national average. And from the perspective of the people who own the tech industry, this presents a problem. High wages threaten profits. To maximize profitability, one must always be finding ways to pay workers less. . . .
The problem isn’t training. The problem is there aren’t enough good jobs to be trained for. The solution is to make bad jobs better, by raising the minimum wage and making it easier for workers to form a union, and to create more good jobs by investing for growth. This involves forcing business to put money into things that actually grow the productive economy rather than shoveling profits out to shareholders. It also means increasing public investment, so that people can make a decent living doing socially necessary work like decarbonizing our energy system and restoring our decaying infrastructure.
In support of Tarnoff’s assertions about current employment in computer science, I can cite a study conducted by Zippia. Using data from the Census Bureau and the Department of Labor, Zippia measured the unemployment rates of college graduates in various majors, five years after graduation, against the total employment in the sector. I cannot vouch for Zippia’s methodology, but since dozens of majors are included, I am assuming that the study has some comparative value even if the statistics are less than definitive.
In any case, computer science just barely missed making the top ten for worst levels of unemployment. It ranks twelfth, with 49,000 majors unemployed five years after graduation, or 8.39% out of a total workforce of 584,000. That percentage of unemployed is exactly the same for majors in International Relations, which has about a quarter of the total workforce as computer science.
I will shortly do another post on the other results of the Zippia study.
If nothing else, these two pieces raise the issue of where widely accepted talking points about education and workforce needs may diverge from documented reality.
Tarnoff’s complete article is available at: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/21/coding-education-teaching-silicon-valley-wages.
The Zippia study is available at: https://www.zippia.com/advice/the-toughest-majors-for-finding-jobs-after-college/.