More than a quarter of the nation's high-tech manufacturing jobs were lost in the past decade, according to a new government study.
The United States shed 28 percent, or 687,000 jobs in high-tech sectors since reaching its peak of 2.5 million jobs in 2000, according to the study released Tuesday by the National Science Board, the policymaking body for the National Science Foundation.
High-tech manufacturing jobs took their first hit during the recession of 2001, suffering "substantial and permanent" job losses in sectors including aerospace, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications equipment, computer and office equipment and scientific instruments, the report said. By 2010, more than a quarter of the jobs were lost.
The job losses threaten America's competitive edge in science and technology, according to the report's authors.
"Other nations clearly recognize the economic and social benefits of investing in R&D and education, and they are challenging the United States' leadership position," said Jose-Marie Griffiths, chairperson of the National Science Board committee that oversees the production of the report. "We're seeing the result in the very real, and substantial loss of good jobs," she said in a statement.
The reports' authors would not cite specific reasons for the job losses, noting only that "We don't have any data that says these jobs were outsourced," said Rolf Lehming, the program director for the report.
But one high-tech trade group said the decline has been a long time coming, blaming job loss on companies shifting to a lower cost production model that moved jobs overseas.
"It took years for this position to erode, and it'll take years to return," said Matthew Summy, president of the Illinois Science & Technology Coalition, an industry group that represents research and development interests at universities, federal laboratories and companies.
He thinks the U.S. can look forward to some high-tech manufacturing returning stateside because of the sophistication of the economy. "The U.S. has the research and development as well as the technical capacity to implement it in a way that few nations do," said Summy.
The biennial report, "Science and Engineering Indicators," noted that U.S.-based multinational firms are creating research and development jobs abroad at an "unprecedented rate.
Since 2004, about 85 percent of all research and development job growth has been in U.S. firms' foreign outposts. But there is no indication that the U.S. is consequently losing these research jobs. In fact, these jobs are growing in the U.S., albeit at a relatively modest rate and not as quickly as they are being generated abroad.
Among the other findings: The United States and Asia nearly matched their research and development expenditures, with the U.S. spending $400 billion in 2009 while Asia spent $399 billion.
The report also found that for the first time, China is outpacing the U.S. in global exports.
In the late nineties, the United States' share of global high-tech exports reached as high as 22 percent. By 2010, however, it had shrunk to 15 percent. At the same time, the report said China's high-tech exports nearly quadrupled, growing from 6 percent in 1995 to 22 percent in 2010.
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