It's an oft-repeated demand: The U.S. needs more qualified STEM workers.

But as The Atlantic's Mikhail Zinshteyn points out, there's no definitive proof of a shortage of college  graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math--known by the acronym STEM. But its widespread acceptance may push too many students into computer science classes, he argues.

As Obama prepares to issue his 2017 budget proposal, he's leaving room for a  $4 billion "Computer Science for All" Initiative announced recently, which would give states more funding to offer more computer science classes.  

But entering choosing a career in a STEM field isn't a guaranteed path to success.

As many economists argue, STEM careers aren't seeing a continuous spike in wages. Wage increases are one of the traditional signs of a labor shortage, as employers have to lure qualified workers with a higher salary and more benefits. According to the PayScale Index, the average pay for STEM workers dipped in the first half of 2015, but began to rise again in the second half of the year.

Instead, the chorus of "more students need to pursue computer science," may drive too many students to pursue STEM degrees, says Zinshteyn. He cites Michael Teitelbaum, a senior research associate at the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, who gave a speech to education reporters in 2014 about the "alarm, boom, and bust" cycle that STEM and other once-popular fields experience. 

Even if computer science graduates find a cushy job at a thriving Silicon Valley startup, they have  to live through what follows the "alarm and boom" phases--layoffs. Just ask workers at Yahoo.

The bright side: Even if there there isn't a dire shortage of tech workers, steering more resources toward computer science classes could help solve tech's diversity problem

Just 13 percent of high-school students who took the Advanced Placement Computer Science test last year were black or Latino. According to the College Board, the group that administers the AP Computer Science test, students who took the AP Computer Science test were "six to 10 times more likely to study the field in college."

But getting more women and minorities into computer science is only step one. The next task: Getting tech startups to root out unconscious bias in hiring.

Published on: Feb 2, 2016