Engineering Unemployment: How to Lie with Statistics

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Engineering Unemployment: How to Lie with Statistics

by J.G.

‘Science for the People’ Vol. 5, No. 2,  March 1973, p. 43 – 44

The rate of unemployment among engineers concerns engineers themselves, the engineering colleges, industry and the government. If the rate is low and a passing affair, then no action is needed: the situation will correct itself in a short time. If the rate is high and persists over a period of years, then organized remedial action becomes necessary. lacking such action, numbers of engineers may be forced into selling real-estate, gasoline and hamburgers. Engineering colleges may have to shut down departments or cut staff in the face of declining enrollment. The government may have to end unrestricted entry of foreign engineers into the United States. Over a longer period, industry and the country may be faced with a shrinking engineer labor pool and a concomitant declining national technical capability.

Compiling unemployment figures for engineers appears to be a straight-forward job : after all, most engineers work for sizable private companies or large government entities. In the first group, available social-security and income tax records for engineers over the past few years should clearly show the employment trends. For the second group, figures should be easily available from the government agencies concerned.

Yet the Nixon administration has not chosen to take the direct approach to engineer unemployment statistics. Instead, the government’s National Science Foundation awarded the Engineers’ Joint Council a $65,000 contract to conduct an unemployment survey1. The Council then polled 20% of a claimed “500,000 individual members of 23 major engineering societies” (e.g. American Society of Civil Engineers, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, etc.) With some 1.25 million comprising the U.S. engineer labor force, the claimed sample is 8%.

EJC came up with an engineer unemployment rate of 2.9%, considerably less than the purported national civilian unemployment rate of 5.9%

Are the NSF-EJC engineer unemployment figures valid?

The evidence suggests that the actual engineer unemployment is at least double the stated 2.9% figure. Also, it is probable that the Nixon administration deliberately chose the EJC survey method of gathering the statistics rather than the direct use of social-security and income tax data in order to justify its do-nothing policy, one which forced many engineers to lose their homes, break up their families, and destroy their self-respect.

Probably as good an example as any of the Nixon administration’s fraudulent statistics comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics “Monthly Labor Review” of October 1972 p. 16 in a piece entitled “Characteristics of Jobless Engineers’: Based on the EJC survey, the article tabulates the following figures:

Year Employed Engineers (a) Unemployed Engineers (b) Unemployment Rate (b/a)
1967 1,161,000 8000 0.7%
1968 1,193,000 8000 0.7%
1969 1,220,000 10,000 0.8%
1970 1,183,000 27,000 2.2%
1971 1,163,000 24,000 2.9%

Suppose we add the figures for employed to those for unemployed engineers, (a) plus (b), to approximate the total engineer labor force. This gives the following results:

Year Engineer Labor Force
1967 1,169,000
1968 1,201,000
1969 1,230,000
1970 1,210,000
1971 1,197,000

According to these figures, the engineer labor force peaked at about 1,230,000 in 1969 and dropped to 1,197,000 in 1971. Did the engineer force actually decline by 33,000 between 1969 and 1971? Did these people die or retire in the face of continuing accretions from U.S. colleges and imports from abroad? Actually, the engineer labor force had to increase. The 33,000 vanished engineers and more—were reported as salesmen or handymen or small merchants, thereby making the unemployment figures look better and justifying inaction.

The Engineers’ Joint Council has been disseminating false employment statistics for many years. Its Engineering Manpower Commission was crying about an engineer shortage one year after massive lay-offs struck the field. The reason for its orientation was stated bluntly by Professor Harold Belkin of New Mexico State University (Chemical Engineering Progress, July 1972, p. 40):

…I must say that I had quite a few smiles flicker across my face … One of them was about the engineers’ Joint Council. This happened so long ago that people tend to forget that it was organized by top corporate management people like vice presidents of engineering companies such as GE, Dupont, etc. to ensure that there would be an adequate supply of engineers for the future… ”

In fact, they wanted an over-supply to help drive engineers’ wages down.

Although blessed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fraudulent nature of EJC’s figures derives directly from its method of sampling: EJC polled 100,000 engineering society members. But engineering society membership is heavily concentrated among company, government, and university officials. Most working engineers stay out because they see their dues money being used against their own interests.

U.S. engineers are faced with serious problems: inadequate unemployment insurance payments, sharp discrimination after age 40, non-transferable pensions, lack of industry and government training programs. The Nixon administration’s fraudulent statistics, compiled with the cynical connivance of the management-owned Engineers’ Joint Council, are intended to avoid corning to grips with these problems.

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  1. Archive Editor’s Note: a note is referenced here in the original print, however, no references/notes section was included.