Talent, Immigration, and U.S. Economic Competitiveness

Innovation and Economic Growth

Article Snapshot


Gordon Hanson and Matthew J. Slaughter


Compete America, May 2013


The talent of skilled workers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields drives economic growth. A large proportion of researchers, entrepreneurs, and workers in STEM sectors are immigrants. Even in a recession, there is strong demand for STEM workers.

Policy Relevance

Attracting immigrants with STEM skills is vital to the United States’ growth.

Main Points

  • In the 20th century, more than 80% of the rise in output per person can be attributed to innovation and technological progress.
  • In 2012, the World Economic Forum ranked the United States seventh in “Global Competitiveness,” down from second in 2004; the United States ranked seventh in “Innovation;” between 2009 and 2012, the United States fell from first in the Global Innovation Index to tenth.
  • As of 2013, U.S. students ranked 15th in reading, 23rd in science, and 31st in mathematics among 65 countries; students born in the United States cannot meet the need for STEM skills.
  • Only 12% of U.S. residents are immigrants, but about one third to one half of university faculty at top-ranked computer science and engineering programs are immigrants.
  • Since 1994, one quarter of high-tech firms founded in the U.S. have at least one foreign-born founder.
  • For the past 30 years, STEM workers have earned about 25% more than similar non-STEM workers; the earnings of U.S.-born STEM workers are about the same as those of foreign-born STEM workers, regardless of age, gender, education, and specialty.
  • Since 2000, the real wages for almost all U.S. occupations have fallen, while real wages of STEM workers have grown.
  • From 2009 to 2012, the unemployment rate for STEM workers fell from 4.5% to 2.5%; for computer workers, the rate declined from 5.4% to 2.5%.


Get The Article

Find the full article online

Search for Full Article