Wedel's former industry, semiconductors, hasn't recovered at all as an employer. In 2001, there were more than 200,000 people working in the semi-conductor industry. That number was less than 100,000 by 2010, according to a recent Economic Policy Institute study on guest workers by Hal Salzman, a public policy professor at Rutgers; Daniel Kuehn, an economics doctoral candidate at American University; and Lindsay Lowell, director of Policy Studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University.
Their study argues that that the "United States has more than a sufficient supply of workers available to work in STEM occupations."
Overall employment among electrical engineers dropped from 385,000 in 2001 to 335,000 in 2012, according to an IEEE-USA analysis of U.S. labor data. In contrast, software developer jobs soared to 1.1 million from 745,000 in the same time period.
During the entire decade of the 1980s, unemployment for electrical engineers never rose above 2 percent -- even though the overall unemployment rate was at times as high as 10 percent, said Ron Hira, a public policy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology and researcher of tech immigration issues.
"The performance over the recent decades calls into question whether it's worth investing in such a career," said Hira. "Workers should expect to be laid off, and for substantial periods of time," he said. "The professions are much more risky than they were in the past, yet the rewards haven't shown up in wage increases to balance out that increased risk."
Hira sees decreasing demand for workers as a key problem.
Over the last decade, IT employment has shot up and down, and the only tech occupation that appears to have recovered to full employment is software developer, said Daniel Costa, an immigration policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute.
Other tech occupations "have not even rebounded to what they were right before the Great Recession started," he said.
While it's great to see software developers getting back to full employment, said Costa, data appears to show that "the tech labor market is still too loose to suggest it is lacking in tech workers," he said.
Concerning the growth in software developers, researchers generally agree that it reflects an economy that has become much more software focused. The debate now may be about whether such a shift is really a bad thing if other areas -- engineering in particular -- stagnates or falls.
Neil Ruiz, a senior policy analyst at Brookings Institution, sees the rise of software and professional services in concert with a more software-focused economy. The decline in manufacturing represents the overseas and near-shore shift in manufacturing. "It does not have to do with decline of R&D/innovation in the U.S.," he said.
Zoltan Acs, a professor and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Public Policy at George Mason University, argues that software development is innovation. Citing the app development work, "are these not innovations? I would be more upset if both trends (software development and electrical engineering) were down."
But Robert Atkinson, president of The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, sees the decline in electrical engineering as "a clear reflection of the U.S. losing the race for global innovation advantage in manufacturing."