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The Teacher Compensation Gap Is Wider Than Ever

Topics: Career Profiles
Recent teacher strikes in Arizona, North Carolina and West Virginia have helped raise public awareness regarding teacher pay issues.
teacher pay
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Teachers’ work is of the utmost importance. They aren’t just educating kids for the kids’ sake. Teachers are also doing a service for the public at large by educating the adults of the future.

The education that tomorrow’s doctors, plumbers, writers and lawyers receive will impact us all. So, the widening gap between teachers’ earnings and that of professionals with comparable education is a public crisis. It affects far more than just people who work in education or have a school-aged child.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

These problems could potentially change the profession of education in a major way, and not for the better. Here’s what you need to know:

The Erosion of Relative teacher pay

Relative teacher pay measures the difference between what teachers earn and what they could earn in another profession. Teacher pay has been eroding for over 50 years, according to a new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

The EPI notes that in 1960, female teachers enjoyed a “wage premium,” meaning that they were paid more than workers with comparable education and experience in other professions. By the early 1980s, this had reversed and teachers of both genders were paid less than their peers in other occupations. By the mid-90s, the teacher pay penalty was escalating.

The teacher pay penalty by the numbers:

Here are a few key findings from the EPI’s recent report:

  • The relative wage gap grew from 1.8 percent in 1994 to 4.3 percent in 1996. It reached a record high of 18.7 percent in 2017.
  • The wage penalty for female teachers was 15.6 percent in 2017. Female public school teachers earn, on average, 15.6 percent less than comparable female workers in other professions. For men, it’s even worse. Their wage penalty was 26.8 percent as of 2017.
  • The average weekly wages of college grads rose from $1,339 to $1,476 from 1996 to 2017. However, the average weekly earnings of public school teachers decreased by $27, from $1,164 to $1,137. These numbers have been adjusted for inflation.
  • The public school teacher wage penalty grew from 17 percent in 2015 to 18.7 percent in 2017.
  • Benefits aren’t enough to explain away the gap. The total compensation penalty, which includes wages and benefits, grew from 10.5 percent in 2015 to 11.1 percent in 2017.

Teacher pay really matters

Teachers ought to be paid salaries that are more comparable with professions with similar levels of education and experience. It matters because of how wages impact today’s educators, but these factors also determine a great deal about the future of the profession.

Per the EPI:

Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance. To ensure a high-quality teaching workforce, schools must retain experienced teachers and recruit high-quality students into the profession. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.

This report also pointed out that every single state in the union headed into the 2017-2018 with teacher shortages. If the teacher pay gap continues to widen, these problems are likely to persist or worsen.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you a teacher experiencing these pay issues? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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