Originally posted by Homer Phillips:
Do you think the content of this story is an urban myth?
Originally posted by Anand Prabhu:
That article is as of May 2000. Surely, things have changed since that article printed.
Originally posted by Luke Kolin:
Nice - posting a six year old article. I guess those older workers complaining about age discrimination really are stuck in the past and should be avoided.
Hey Homer, that sure does not paint a very rosy picture...
STATEMENT OF SENATOR EDWARD M. KENNEDY
�INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SKILLS IMPROVEMENT ACT 0F 2000"
MARCH 9, 2000
We live in a time of unparalleled prosperity. Our nation�s economy is experiencing a time of unprecedented growth and transition. This strong economic growth can, in large measure, be traced to the vitality of the highly competitive and rapidly growing high technology industry. Information technology, biotechnology and its associated manufacturers have created more new jobs than any other part of the economy. In fact, today the software industry�s contribution to the economy is larger than the contribution of any other manufacturing industry in America - - an extraordinary achievement for an industry that is less than 30 years old. A strong technology sector has spurred the renewal of industries old and new across America.
The information technology industry has fundamentally transformed the economy itself by making American businesses more efficient, productive and competitive than ever before.
The benefits of the information age are obvious for all to see. The rapid growth of high-tech has made it the nation�s third largest employer, with over 4.8 million workers in high-tech related fields, working in jobs which pay 70 percent above average incomes.
I am proud to say that Massachusetts is leading the nation in this transition to the New Economy, according to a recent study by the Progressive Policy Institute. Thanks to our world-class universities and research facilities, Massachusetts is a leader in the global economy of the information age. We are home to nearly 3,000 information technology companies, employing 170,000 people, and generating $8 billion in annual revenues.
With such rapid change, we find ourselves stretched thin to support these new businesses and their opportunities for growth. The most significant constraint on future growth of the high-tech industry is clearly the shortage of people with the skills and technical background to take jobs in the industry. Nationally, the demand for people with computer science, electrical engineering, software and communications training is very high. Our ability to compete internationally is dependent upon our ability to provide skilled workers to continue our growth.
The demand for such employees continues to grow rapidly. Between 1996 and 2006, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the demand for database administrators and computer scientists will increase by 118%. Demand for computer engineers is expected to increase by 109% and demand for system analysts is expected to double. Unless we do more to address this growing workforce gap, America�s technological and economic leadership will be jeopardized.
A survey conducted by the Information Technology Association of America identified more than 346,000 unfilled IT positions. Several factors are contributing to this shortage, including an inaccurate image of the IT profession, the under-representation of women and other minorities in the IT workforce, and outdated academic curricula that often do not keep pace with industry needs. In Massachusetts over 11,000 positions go unfilled today for these very reasons. Clearly, we must put greater emphasis on education and training to meet the rapidly growing demand for skilled IT workers.
In 1998, in an effort to find a stop-gap solution to this labor shortage, we enacted the American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act, which increased the number of temporary visas available to skilled foreign workers. The annual H-1B visa cap was raised from 65,000 to 115,000 for fiscal years 1999 and 2000, and 107,500 for fiscal year 2001. Despite the availability of 50,000 additional H-1B visas in FY99, we reached the 115,000 cap by June 1999.
The best estimates are that more than 35,000 petitions for H-1B visas were in the pipeline when the cap was reached, and these cases were rolled over into the fiscal year 2000 cap. Last week, the INS indicated that as of February 15, 67,000 H-1B petitions had been approved and another 44,000 are in the pipeline. These numbers indicate that we are already about to reach the current cap, even though the current fiscal year is not yet half over.
Based on these circumstances, a modest increase in the H-1B high-tech visa cap is justified. But this increase should be temporary, not permanent -- reasonable, not excessive -- and well-tailored to meet existing short-term needs.
The alternative I am proposing meets these requirements. It raises the annual cap to 145,000, which is an increase of 30,000 visas. It contains an exemption for individuals with degrees higher than a masters degree -- approximately 10,000 to 14,000 additional visas. These increases provide the IT industry with a sufficient number of H-1B visas to meet the immediate short-term labor shortage.
The exemption for individuals with doctoral degrees addresses the special concerns of universities and research institutions. In recent years, as a result of their unique hiring cycle, these institutions have been unable to obtain qualified professors and researchers. Our universities, and our country as a whole, benefit from the admission of these exceptionally talented foreign nationals. They represent the �best and brightest� the world has to offer. The unique skills they bring us will strengthen and diversify our economy.
The vast majority of the foreign nationals hired by these institutions have Ph.D degrees -- earned either in the U.S. or at one of the leading universities abroad. The Hatch/Abraham bill provides a limited exemption for Ph.Ds. My bill proposes an unencumbered exemption for these exceptionally gifted foreign nationals and ensures their admission.
Equally important, in considering a new high-tech immigration bill, we must ensure that U.S. workers are not harmed by new immigration policies. We should not bring in foreign workers for jobs that U.S. workers can perform. We should also not bring in foreign workers in ways that artificially depress the pay and benefits of U.S. workers.
We know that the IT industry needs additional workers -- but we also know that many U.S. workers want the opportunity for these good-paying high technology jobs. Some of these U.S. workers need skills training, so that they can move from low-paying service sector jobs into better-paying information technology jobs. Others are laid off IT workers or recent college graduates who can take those IT positions immediately. My bill attempts to balance the needs of the industry and these U.S. workers by providing a reasonable increase in the cap, with a focus on bringing in the best and the brightest, and with an equal focus on job training and education to solve the long-term needs of industry and labor.
We are experiencing the longest period of economic growth in our nation�s history and an unemployment rate just over four percent, the lowest in 30 years. The information technology industry, like many other industries today, must contend with a tight job market during this time of low unemployment. If the market is functioning properly, the information technology industry should respond by raising wages and offering better benefits and working conditions to attract and retain qualified workers. I am concerned that data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that real median weekly high technology wages were actually less in 1998 than in 1995, while wages for other managers and professionals rose during that same time. We must do more to ensure that the supply of H-1B workers in the information technology industry is not keeping wages and benefits artificially low.
We also know that thousands of IT workers were laid off in 1999. 5,180 workers lost their jobs at Electronic Data Systems, 2,150 at Compaq, 3,000 at NEC-Packard Bell and 1,100 at IBM. We also know that some IT companies have improperly classified their workers as independent contractors or temporary workers, rather than as employees, in order to avoid paying them benefits. According to a February 8 article in Computerworld magazine, Census Bureau data show that the unemployment rate for IT workers over age 40 is more than five times that of other unemployed workers. As we address the needs of the IT industry, we must do more to place these laid off workers in new jobs, and enforce the labor and employment laws so that the current IT workforce gets the pay, benefits, and working conditions to which they are entitled.
The bill that we passed in 1998 directed the National Academy of Sciences to study the issue of worker shortages in the information technology industry, including allegations of age discrimination in the industry. NAS has not yet completed this report. The 1998 legislation also directed the INS to report information on H-1B workers, their employers and occupations by October 2000. The INS has not yet completed its report. Clearly, before we agree to a large increase in H-1B visas, we should have the results of these two very important reports.
I have long insisted that any legislation increasing these visas should substantially invest in improved job training for U.S. workers and better education for U.S. students. We must give U.S. workers the skills they need to qualify for these jobs. And as a nation, we have an obligation to invest in our students, the workers of tomorrow.
Expanding the number of H-1B Visas is no substitute for fully developing the potential of our domestic workforce. An educated workforce is our most valuable resource in the modern economy. Expanded job training for U.S. workers and better educational opportunities for U.S. students are critical. They are the only long-term solution to this labor shortage. We have an obligation to invest in our own workers and students.
Any credible legislative proposal to increase the number of high tech workers available to American businesses must begin with the expansion of career training opportunities for American workers. Our nation�s long term economic vitality depends on the creation of effective, accessible and accountable job training initiatives open to all our citizens. The importance of highly developed employment skills has never been greater -- for the continued growth of our economy and for all the individual workers seeking secure, well-paying jobs.
As a recent study of the Massachusetts economy entitled �Opportunity Knocks: Training the Commonwealth�s Workers for the New Economy� emphasizes �The state�s current boom cannot be sustained without adequate supplies of skilled labor. We need to make the most of every worker, and recognize that wasting workers through needless skill deficiencies is a real loss... Job training is now taking on a striking new measure of importance... Competitive advantage lies largely in the minds and methods of the workers.�
Very few investments we can make will produce a better return for the nation�s economy than investing in workforce training. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence, we have been slow to increase the level of funding for training programs. The only part of the workforce system which has received a substantial increase is the dislocated worker program. It is an excellent program and I wholeheartedly support its increase in funds. But, participation in that program is limited to workers who have been discharged by an employer and are currently unemployed. That is only one small segment of the workforce, of which only 9% are served by public job training programs. We need to create high tech training opportunities on a large scale for those who currently hold low paying jobs and wish to obtain new skills to enhance their employability and their earning potential.
Because many more jobs require advanced skills, the gap in earnings between skilled and unskilled workers has steadily widened over the last decade. The impact of increased education on earnings is especially pronounced among workers with less than a college degree. In the 1990's, the rate of real growth in the average income of a worker with an associate�s degree from a community college increased two and a half times the rate for a high school dropout. Even relatively brief periods of training in high tech workforce skills can make a large difference for both workers and employers.
When we expanded the number of H-1B visas in 1998, we created a modest training initiative funded by visa fees. I am proposing to expand and strengthen that program to provide state-of-the-art high tech training for large numbers of workers. It is one of the best ways to keep the economic expansion going and to extend the current prosperity well into this new century. The information technology industry has been a major catalyst for the recent growth in the U.S. economy, and well-trained workers are essential to keep the trend going. Nationwide, there are approximately 300,000 unfilled jobs requiring workers with high tech skills. We need to greatly accelerate training in those skills.
To close this unacceptable high skills gap, my Information Technology Training Initiative will provide a significant level of new financial support for regional workforce boards in areas with substantial high tech skill shortages. This support will be in addition to the funds which the federal government already provides to the states through the existing formulas. It will be awarded by competitive grants based on innovative high tech training proposals developed by workforce boards in partnership with area employers, unions, community organizations, and higher educational institutions.
The financial resources for this initiative will come from higher H-1B visa petition fees, and matching partnership resources. This will enable us to expand funding for job training by $250 million each year. The training will serve nearly 50,000 workers each year � both those who are currently employed and are seeking to enhance their skills, and those who are currently unemployed.
At least eighty percent of the funds generated by this program will be reserved for training in the high tech skills required by the information technology and biotechnology industries, including software and communications services, telecommunications, systems installation and integration, computers and communications hardware, health care technology, biotechnology, biomedical research and manufacturing and innovative services. These are the skills most in demand by the companies that are fueling our economic growth. We need to concentrate our limited resources on preparing workers for these positions.
Training grants will be targeted on areas which can demonstrate a substantial unmet need for workers with these skills. The program is designed to encourage broad community participation with the regional Workforce Investment Boards in the training initiative. We are looking for active participation by high tech companies and trade associations representing small, high tech-oriented businesses, labor unions representing high tech workers, and community organizations and educational institutions involved in developing and overseeing such training. In order to maximize the number of workers receiving training, the workforce boards and other participants will be asked to contribute a fifty percent local match for the federal grant in either dollars or services.
The training will be expected to demonstrate concrete results - trainees placed in high tech jobs, wage increases and promotions for incumbent workers who have upgraded their skills, and attainment of performance levels required by occupational skill standards.
More than ever, jobs require advanced degrees, especially in math, sciences, engineering, and computer sciences. The fact that so many American students lack the degrees to compete for good jobs in the IT industry is an unfortunate reflection on our educational system and on federal, state, and local education policy. Schools and colleges and public policy must keep pace with these demands. We must do all we can to improve K-12 education, and from an early age, instill the skills needed for the new economy.
But we cannot stop there. We must encourage students, including minority students, to consider degrees in math, sciences, computers, and engineering. Today, the number of students graduating with engineering degrees is at a 17 year low. We need to change this disturbing trend. Scholarship opportunities and loans must be expanded for talented minority and low-income students whose families cannot afford today�s high college tuition costs. With increased opportunities, students completing two-year degrees will be provided with incentives to continue their education and obtain four-year degrees.
Building on the foundation established by the 1998 Act, my proposal will substantially increase the funds available through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide scholarships to low-income students pursuing degrees in math, science and engineering. This year, the NSF received approximately $30 million dollars to award low-income scholarships. With the proposed increase in the H-1B petition fees, my proposal will generate $100 million dollars in scholarships � more than three times this year�s awards. The NSF, based on its unique expertise and proven track record, will be free to set the amount of the individual awards.
Finally, although the digital economy is fueling the new information age, not all Americans have equal access to it. Millions of Americans, particularly those at lower income levels, risk being left behind because of lack of access to technology.
Closing the digital divide must be an important part of our effort to meet the growing demand for highly-skilled workers. If we act now to provide low income students with greater access to technology, and invite them to help meet the challenges and excitement of math, science, and engineering, we can develop a workforce well prepared to maintain America�s competitive edge in the global marketplace.
The Hatch/Abraham bill does too little on the digital divide. Their bill calls only for an NSF study on the issue. It fails to offer any proposals to reduce the existing disparities. The Department of Commerce will release its third report on the digital divide this fall. The last thing we need is another study.
My bill includes a digital divide component to help young men and women enter college and the workforce with the skills necessary to compete for high-tech jobs. The proposal is targeted toward low income, middle and high school students. Through merit-based, competitive grants, the NSF will fund public/private partnerships to provide these young people with better training and greater exposure to careers in math, science, and engineering.
The NSF grants will offer technology companies the flexibility to launch new partnerships with schools, local community groups or professional societies, as well as expand existing programs that have proven successful. An out-of-school enrichment program that focuses on math, science, and engineering is an ideal complement to the college scholarship program. It�s an important and effective approach to closing the digital divide.
The current H-1B visa petition fee is $500. My proposal offers three tiers of fees, depending on the total number of employees in each company. Firms with 150 or fewer employees will pay $1000. Those with 151-500 employees will pay $2000, and those employers with over 500 employees will pay $3000. �Job shops� -- H-1B dependent companies -- will pay $3000.
High tech companies are experiencing record profits, and they can well afford to pay a higher application fee. Immigrant families with very modest incomes were able to pay the $1,000 fee imposed to allow family members to obtain green cards. Certainly, multi-million dollar companies can afford to pay equal or higher fees.
Last, but certainly not least, I regret that this Committee and this Congress have failed to act on the many other immigration bills and issues of high importance to immigrants living and working in this country. As the National Council of La Raza and other groups point out in a letter that Senator Abraham and I received recently, �these are issues that have reached a crisis level and need immediate legislative attention.� Unfortunately, unlike the H-1B issue, these other equally important issues have been ignored by most Members of Congress.
Last year, a broad coalition of immigrant and faith-based groups launched the �Fix �96" campaign to repeal the harsh and excessive provisions of the 1996 immigration and welfare laws, and restore balance and fairness. All of the issues raised in this campaign are still outstanding. A number of bills have been introduced proposing solutions to these problems; other bills are near introduction. However, none of these bills -- which are as critical to U.S. immigrants in our workforce as H-1B visas are to the information technology industry -- have significant Republican support.
These issues include providing parity for Central Americans and Haitians with other immigrants, legalizing the status of plaintiffs in certain class action lawsuits, restoring protections to asylum seekers, restoring due process in detention and deportation policy, restoring relief for adjustment of status applicants, restoring public benefits to legal immigrants, and providing protections for battered immigrant women and children.
I agree with the position of these immigrant groups � �we do not accept that the only pro-immigrant agenda this session is a pro-H-1B agenda.� I urge my colleagues to give equal attention to these other very important immigration issues that affect so many families in our workforce.
One other consideration is I would very much like to work from home. My life has come together pretty well, and I can afford to be making less income, and working from home for me would be a ideal way to finish out what years I have remaining in the workforce. Am I being naive thinking I can do this?