Teacher Pay Hits Record—but Not a Good One
Life + Money

Teacher Pay Hits Record—but Not a Good One

REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The pay gap between public school teachers and workers in comparable professions is at the widest point ever, with wages for educators falling woefully behind.

Teachers earned 17 percent less than other college graduates in 2015, according to a new research report from The Economic Policy Institute. That’s the largest gap since 1979, when teachers’ weekly wages were 5.5 percent less than those of college graduates. The analysis adjusted for education, age, gender, marital status, geographic region and race/ethnicity. When benefits including insurance and pensions were factored in, the gap was still 11.1 percent.

The findings come as the number of teachers in the U.S. is falling due to high turnover among new and mid-career teachers, a large volume of retirements and fewer people choosing teaching careers.

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“At the same time, many factors are increasing the demand for teachers, including shrinking class sizes, the desire to improve diversity, and the need to meet high standards,” the report said. “In short, the demand for teachers is escalating, while simultaneously the supply of teachers is faltering.”

The pay gap is biggest for teachers between 35 and 44 years old, who earn 21.7 percent less than their peers in other lines of work; male teachers (24.5 percent less); and non-union teachers (25.5 percent less). Male teachers have always experienced a huge pay gap, even in 1979 when they earned 22.1 percent less than comparable workers.

Female teachers and the most experienced educators have seen wages go from being in their favor to negative territory. In 1979, female teachers earned 4.2 percent than similar female workers, while teachers aged 45 to 54 received 1.9 percent more in wages than comparable workers. In 2015, female teachers earned 13.9 percent less, and older teachers get 17.8 percent less.

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Compared to workers in general, teachers don’t fare as well as they used to, either. In 1996, teachers earned $231 more a week than the average for workers across all levels of education, including those without college degrees. By 2015, the difference was only $59 because the average weekly wage for teachers fell during that time while the pay for all workers increased.

“It is good news that teachers are able to bargain a total compensation package — as it seems they may have forgone wage increases for benefits recently,” the report said, noting that teacher wages have stagnated since the mid-1990s. “This makes the wage gap, on its own, critically important, as it is only earnings that help to make ends meet regarding pecuniary expenses such as rents, food, and paying off student loans.”