Washington Update

NSB Releases Science and Engineering Indicators 2022

By: Ellen Kuo
Thursday, January 27, 2022
The National Science Board released its Science & Engineering Indicators 2022 report at an important inflection point in our country’s history. The National Science Foundation must continue to collaborate with stakeholders to advance the frontiers of research for the future; ensure access and inclusivity in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); and maintain U.S. global leadership.

The report showed that the global concentration of research and development (R&D) performance continues to shift from the U.S. and Europe to countries in East-Southeast Asia and South Asia. There is also evidence that even with the absolute amount of federally funded R&D increasing, the proportion that the federal government has funded has decreased from 31 percent to 21 percent between the years 2010 to 2019, respectively. Additionally, the federal government remains the single largest funder for basic research followed by business, nonprofits, and higher education. However, in the area of basic research, even though the U.S. is still the biggest investor compared to other countries, this share is declining. Such a decline is a problem because only the federal government can make the strategic, risky, long-term investments across all disciplines that are essential to new knowledge and understanding as well as create the industries of the future that will expand our economy. 

The report also made four changes to the way it analyzes and views data in 2022, one of which was introducing a dual definition of the STEM workforce and indicators. It encompasses all workers who use significant science and engineering skills at their jobs, rather than defining the workforce, mostly based on degree level. Expanding the definition to include the 20 million STEM workers without a bachelor's degree, referred to as the skilled technical workforce, provided better insight into the full distribution of workers in occupations that require STEM knowledge and skills. Therefore, STEM workers account for 36 million people in diverse occupations and constitute 23 percent of the U.S. workforce. In this group there is a higher proportion of men, Whites, Asians, and foreign-born workers than the proportions of these groups in the overall U.S. population. Another change was that the report delved into how the COVID-19 pandemic negatively affected many aspects of the science and engineering enterprise in terms of job security and education. Inequities in both U.S. STEM education and workforce demonstrated the need for a strong science and engineering enterprise to rapidly meet future urgent global crises. A state-by-state view was released in conjunction with the report.