Pay for teachers has stagnated nationally over the past two decades, and fallen behind earnings of other workers with college degrees, the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington-based nonpartisan think tank, concluded in a report released Tuesday.
In 1994, teachers earned on average 1.8 percent less than other comparable workers; by 2015, they earned 17 percent less, adjusted for inflation. Factoring in total compensation, including health benefits and pensions, teachers earned the same as other workers with college degrees in 1994 but 11 percent less by 2015, the report found.
The report suggests that the pay gap or “penalty,” as the institute calls it, could complicate the efforts by California and other states to solve a teacher shortage and compete for high-achieving college graduates. “If the policy goal is to improve the quality of the entire teaching workforce, then raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining higher-quality teachers,” the study said.
“It will be a big lift to increase compensation by 11 percent, but it’s important to move in that direction,” Larry Mishel, president of the institute and co-author of the report, said in an interview.
The average pay of public school teachers decreased by $30 per week – 2.6 percent – from 1996 to 2015 in inflation-adjusted dollars while weekly wages of all college graduates rose 9.6 percent, from $1,292 to $1,416, during that period.
The average teacher in America makes 77 percent of what other workers with a college degree earn, based on 2011-15 data in the report; the closest state to parity is Wyoming, where the gap is only 1.5 percent. In only five states are teacher weekly wages less than 10 percent behind.
California teachers earned 86 percent of the salaries of other workers with college degrees, the 10th-highest among the states, the report said. Since the late 1990s, the average pay for teachers in California has ranked among the top five states (see EdSource States in Motion), although this advantage has been offset by a high cost of living, particularly in the Bay Area, metropolitan Los Angeles and San Diego.
During the recession, California teachers lost ground, as many districts laid off teachers and reduced the school year by three to five days, equal to a 2 to 3 percent pay cut. With a surge in Proposition 98 revenue for K-12 schools since 2013-14, districts have restored pay and – taking advantage of the Local Control Funding Formula – some districts have phased in raises as high as 8 to 10 percent. However, districts are also facing steep increases in teacher pension obligations that will more than double, from $2.4 billion in 2015 to about $6 billion by 2020 – a millstone that could constrain future raises.
The report noted significant gender differences in the nationwide pay gap. In 1960, when women faced more employment discrimination and had fewer career options, women teachers had a substantial pay advantage, earning 14.7 percent more in weekly wages than comparable women workers. By 1979, the difference had narrowed to 4.2 percent. In 2015, the institute estimated they earned 13.9 percent less.
Male teachers in 1979 earned 22.1 percent less than other men with college degrees. That had narrowed to 15 percent less in the mid-1990s, but grew to 24.5 percent less in 2015.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.