Anthropologists Not Heading to the Unemployment Line Yet

A cat statue discovered on Key Marco in Southwest Florida. Google Image Search/Public.resources.org
TAMPA (2011-20-10) -

It's been a rough week for anthropologists with Gov. Rick Scott singling out the field as an inefficient use of higher education budgets.

Why should taxpayers foot the education bill for an anthropologist who can't find a job? Scott asked a business group last week. Colleges should "drive" students into science, technology, engineering or math -- known as STEM -- programs.

"I got accused of not likely anthropology," Scott said. "But just think about it: How many more jobs do you think there is for anthropology in this state? Do you want to use your tax dollars to educate more people who can’t get jobs? I want to make sure that we spend our money where people can get jobs when they get out."

But don't expect to see anthropologists on street corners holding signs reading "will study social interactions for food" anytime soon.

According to federal Bureau of Labor Statistics data, job prospects for anthropologists are nearly as strong as they are for the math and science graduates Scott prizes.

Scott is right that math and science jobs dominate the list of the 30-fastest growing jobs between now and 2018.

Biomedical engineers top the list with a bullish 72 percent growth expected. The list also includes skin care specialists, dental assistants and environmental engineering technicians.

But the difference in job growth between those jobs and anthropologists is slight. Anthropology jobs are expected to grow by 28 percent, while computer software engineers and environmental engineering technician jobs will grow by 30 percent.

“The expected growth isn’t that much different in terms of percentage," said Chris Cunningham, an analyst with the Bureau of Labor Statistics. "The highest growth is dominated by your science and health care fields but when you look at everything, the social sciences aren’t really as far behind as the general perception is.”

Anthropologists' job prospects are far better than other social sciences. Historians, for example, should only count on 11 percent job growth by 2018.

Scott could have two arguments in his favor. Anthropology degrees can be time-consuming to earn and STEM jobs tend to pay higher salaries. An anthropologist can expect to earn about two-thirds of what a biomedical engineer earns.

The bigger issue is the difference in job prospects for those who have a college degree and those who don't: All 30 of the Bureau of Labor Statistics fastest-shrinking jobs require no college education. Farmers are at the top of that list.

Scott is working on that aspect, floating a Texas proposal designed to keep the cost of college down and ensure as many students as possible earn a degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics data does have a large caveat, Cunningham said, the agency conducted the last survey prior to the full impact of the recession. The numbers may not reflect a long-term reset in job prospects.

The agency will issue an updated report in February.

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