Workers Without Bachelor’s Degrees Redefine STEM Economy


One in five jobs in Missouri is a STEM (science, computer, engineering and math) position, which gives the state the 26th highest concentration of those jobs among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., according to a new study.

Missouri lagged behind 37 other states and D.C. in terms of STEM knowledge required per job in 2011, according to the Brookings Institution’s report. Jonathan Rothwell, the senior research associate and associate fellow at Brookings who conducted the study, said that’s an indication “Missouri’s STEM economy is oriented towards STEM jobs that require somewhat less advanced knowledge relative to the highly educated STEM occupations.”

Rothwell said the lower requirement is reflected in Missouri’s larger share of STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree compared to the U.S. number.

STEM workers with sub-bachelor’s degrees had been ignored as an important workforce and economic driver in previous studies of the STEM economy, according to Rothwell’s study.

Missouri’s STEM jobs requiring an associate’s degree or less constituted 54 percent of all the state’s STEM jobs, according to the Brookings database. Workers in these positions earned nearly $50,000, or 62 percent more than people in non-STEM jobs with the same educational requirement. 

Nationally, half of all STEMs jobs required sub-bachelor’s degrees. Workers in those jobs made $53,000, or 60 percent more than those in non-STEM jobs requiring the same level of education.

The gap in wages between sub-bachelor’s STEM and sub-bachelor’s non-STEM workers was much larger than the difference between STEM and non-STEM workers with bachelor’s or higher education, based on an analysis of the Brookings database.

Rothwell said the larger difference in knowledge and skill requirements at the sub-bachelor’s level explained the wage gap.

“Non-STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree are working in occupations requiring very little post-secondary eduction on average, whereas STEM workers without a bachelor’s degree are more likely to work in jobs requiring a post-secondary certification or associate’s degree.” Rothwell said, “also, STEM sub-bachelor’s jobs are more likely to require longer periods of on-the-job-training.”

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