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Teacher Pay Lags Badly Compared to Other Jobs, Study Finds

Teacher Denitra Henry, right, assists second grade student Jayden Bowie, with his computer during her math class at Turner Elementary School in southeast Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.

Teacher Denitra Henry, right, assists second grade student Jayden Bowie, with his computer during her math class at Turner Elementary School in southeast Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

New research shows public educators face a growing “compensation penalty.”

Wages and compensation for public school teachers in the U.S. have eroded over the past two decades relative to other comparable professions, according to new research.

The liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute released a paper on the topic on Wednesday, noting that teacher pay took center stage earlier this year in strikes by educators in states including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Researchers found that, after taking into consideration educational attainment, experience, and demographic factors, teachers earned 18.7 percent less than other workers in 2017.

That gap had grown from 4.3 percent in 1996, the paper says.

Even after factoring in benefit packages, the “compensation penalty” last year was 11.1 percent.

“The opportunity cost of becoming a teacher and remaining in the profession becomes more and more important as relative teacher pay falls further behind,” the paper says.

Lawrence Mishel, a distinguished fellow at EPI and University of California Berkeley economist and EPI research associate Sylvia Allegretto authored the research.

They noted that average weekly public school teacher wages, adjusted for inflation, shrank from $1,164 to $1,137 between 1996 and 2017, while wages for other college graduates increased from $1,339 to $1,476 during the same time period.

In no state are teachers paid more than other college graduates, the paper says. The wage gap teachers face was largest in Arizona at 36.4 percent and smallest in Wyoming, at 3.1 percent.

“Deteriorating teacher pay is not just a fairness issue. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need. In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts need to address the inadequacy of teacher pay,” Mishel said.

As it has been since 1979, the pay gap last year for male teachers was worse than it was for women, 26.8 percent, versus 15.6 percent.

The paper says that the Great Recession cannot be blamed for lagging teacher pay, and points out that eight of the 10 states with the largest reductions in education funding since 2008 were states that cut taxes or took other steps that depressed revenue collections.

A full copy of the paper can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Senior Reporter for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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