Few would disagree that STEM-educated workers are vital to advancing innovative ideas and new products. But here’s another fact borne out by labor market data: The regions with the strongest presence of STEM-related employment are heavily dependent on government funding.
Washington, D.C. has more than two times the concentration of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) jobs than the national average, according to EMSI’s latest employment estimates. Fairfax and Arlington counties — whose economies are interconnected to D.C.’s — have helped Virginia expand its presence of STEM-related workers, on a per-capita basis, more than any other state in the last decade.
Meanwhile, the two counties in the U.S. with the most STEM workers per capita — Los Alamos, N.M., and Butte, Idaho — are home to major Department of Energy national laboratories.
Defining STEM Employment
Before we go further, though, we should discuss how we define STEM-related jobs. Just like green jobs or creative workers, there are many definitions of STEM occupations — often different from state to state. Here we used the definition developed by Praxis Strategy Group, an EMSI client and North Dakota growth strategy firm that has co-written the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Enterprising States” report the last two years.
The definition consists of eight high-level categories (see here for all 93 five-digit occupations):
- Computer specialists (SOC 15-1)
- Mathematical science occupations (15-2);
- Engineers (17-2);
- Drafters, engineering, and mapping technicians (17-3);
- Life scientists (19-1);
- Physical scientists (19-2);
- Social scientists and related occupations (19-3);
- Life, physical, and social science technicians (19-4).
Praxis includes technicians jobs that typically require two-year degrees because they are often overlooked in the STEM conversation. (Update: The 3- and 5-digit STEM occupation groups are now available to all users in Analyst.)
States Gaining/Losing STEM Concentration
Generally, states that have had the biggest percentage increases in employment in the last decade have also seen modest to healthy gains in their STEM workforces. North Dakota’s STEM employment has soared 31% (compared to 15% across all occupations). Alaska and Utah’s STEM jobs have each grown 18%, while both states have seen double-digit percentage increases in all jobs.
Results for every state are detailed in the table below. We also included the change in concentration (measured by location quotient, or LQ) for STEM-related workers from ’01 to ’11 across every state. Using Analyst’s GIS tool, we were able to compare all 50 states (plus D.C.) by their LQ to see which have gained a comparative advantage.
Outside D.C., Virginia, Washington State — where more than 70% of STEM workers are located in the Seattle area — Maryland, and North Dakota have seen the biggest increases in STEM concentration in the last decade. Other states who have performed well: Alaska, Rhode Island, Arkansas, and West Virginia.
California, on the other hand, still has more than 13% of the nation’s overall STEM-related workforce (just over 1 million estimated jobs). But it shed 19,000 STEM jobs in the last decade (a 1.75% decline) and saw its above-average concentration slightly decline.
Note: A location quotient of 1.00, like Arizona has in 2011, means that state has the same relative concentration of STEM workers as the national average.
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STEM-Related Earnings Much Higher In Most States
STEM-related occupations pay on average between $8 to $18 per hour more than all other jobs looking across the nation. This isn’t a surprise, but the disparity in wages is startling in some cases. Consider Virginia, where average hourly earnings in STEM-related employment are almost twice that of all other occupations, according to EMSI’s latest employment data. The difference is almost as large in California, Colorado, and Maryland. (These are disturbing numbers for California, considering the drop-off of STEM jobs we highlighted earlier. Simply, these high-wage jobs have declined while lower-paying jobs have grown).
It’s also interesting that most states at the other end of spectrum — those where the difference in STEM-related earnings and all others isn’t as severe — are sparsely populated. This includes Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and Idaho.
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County-Level Look At STEM Jobs
Los Angeles County has the largest number of STEM jobs in the U.S. (more than 235,000). But when it comes to job concentration, Santa Clara County overwhelms LA County, largely because of the influence of Silicon Valley. Beyond pockets in California and Washington, however, most of the top counties have some kind of heavy government influence.
As we mentioned earlier, Los Alamos County, N.M. (with an LQ of 7.10) and Butte County, Idaho (with an LQ of 6.83) have huge STEM presences given their overall workforces. The Idaho National Laboratory is located partially in Butte County — in windswept southeastern Idaho — and employs approximately 4,000 people. The Los Alamos National Lab is the largest employer in northern New Mexico, with an estimated budget of $2.2 billion.
Virginia has three of the top 10 most concentrated counties in the US (King George, Arlington, and Fairfax). King George County, home to the the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, has the fourth-highest earnings for STEM workers of any U.S. county and is five times more concentrated than the national average.
Martin County, Indiana (pop. 10,334), the fourth-most concentrated county in the nation, is also the site of another Naval Surface Center. And it’s not a surprise that Durham County, N.C., is also in the top 10 given the Research Triangle.