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 noted that its analysis includes controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender. Data for 1994-95, the dotted lines, are extrapolations.

Source: Economic Policy Institute

The report noted that its analysis includes controls for age, education, race/ethnicity, geographical region, marital status, and gender. Data for 1994-95, the dotted lines, are extrapolations.

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.

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  1. Bonnie Cediel 8 months ago8 months ago

    California is one of 15 states where teachers do not participate in Social Security, saving both them and their school districts F.I.C.A. contributions. What many people, including most teachers hired before 2005, do not realize is that they will lose part of the Social Security retirement benefits they have earned in other work besides teaching because of the Windfall Elimination Provision. Women who have earned Social Security spousal benefits through their FICA-contributing spouse usually lose … Read More

    California is one of 15 states where teachers do not participate in Social Security, saving both them and their school districts F.I.C.A. contributions. What many people, including most teachers hired before 2005, do not realize is that they will lose part of the Social Security retirement benefits they have earned in other work besides teaching because of the Windfall Elimination Provision. Women who have earned Social Security spousal benefits through their FICA-contributing spouse usually lose ALL their retirement benefits even after teaching for half a career. The Government Pension Offset can cost them $12,000 a year. Widows who have been full-career teachers lose all their survivor benefits, as much as $24,000 a year. At least half of California’s current teachers don’t understand these offsets, according to a CalSTRS survey. And they are concerned about pay raises? Wait till they find out what will hit them after they retire! Fight back at ssfairness.com!

  2. CarolineSF 9 months ago9 months ago

    This kind of discussion always brings out teacher-bashers. It's incredible how much hostility -- really deep hatred -- there is floating around in our culture for educators as a profession. (I don't really see the bashers hating individual teachers, but rather holding the entire profession in contempt -- much like Trump supporters and many others with "the media." There's a cartoon about this where a red-faced, snarling man is ranting about lazy, greedy teachers … Read More

    This kind of discussion always brings out teacher-bashers. It’s incredible how much hostility — really deep hatred — there is floating around in our culture for educators as a profession. (I don’t really see the bashers hating individual teachers, but rather holding the entire profession in contempt — much like Trump supporters and many others with “the media.” There’s a cartoon about this where a red-faced, snarling man is ranting about lazy, greedy teachers in one panel, and in the other, lovingly and gently delivering his small daughter into the waiting hands of a kind-faced teacher at the classroom door. Similarly, I just read a reporter’s comments about being at a Trump rally where he has whipped the crowd into a frenzy of denouncing the media — the reporter said if you catch someone’s eyes in the raging mob, the person will soften and look embarrassed.)

    In my opinion — and it seems like just common sense — it’s much harder, if not impossible, to improve an educational system when the very culture holds teachers in contempt. That’s a reason skeptics like me don’t believe education “reformers” are sincere about wanting to improve education — assailing teachers at every opportunity is obviously likely to degrade education, not improve it.

  3. Victoris 9 months ago9 months ago

    I have taught school in Ohio and Michigan for 36 years and have never been paid for a day I did not work. Christmas,Thanksgiving, Easter,spring break and summer are unpaid. I take smaller checks over the course of the year to have consistent pay. I spend no less than a grand a year on materials and have not had a raise or cost of living adjustment for 8 years. I wish those who chose … Read More

    I have taught school in Ohio and Michigan for 36 years and have never been paid for a day I did not work. Christmas,Thanksgiving, Easter,spring break and summer are unpaid. I take smaller checks over the course of the year to have consistent pay. I spend no less than a grand a year on materials and have not had a raise or cost of living adjustment for 8 years. I wish those who chose to post had correct information before posting.

  4. Tom 9 months ago9 months ago

    John - am glad to see the study included health care and pensions in the comparison, but was it adjusted for yearly hours worked by teachers vs. other workers with college degrees? Most teachers get at least 10 weeks paid time off in the summer months plus a week at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Winter break, one week at Spring break, plus sick and paid time off during the school year that workers in … Read More

    John – am glad to see the study included health care and pensions in the comparison, but was it adjusted for yearly hours worked by teachers vs. other workers with college degrees? Most teachers get at least 10 weeks paid time off in the summer months plus a week at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Winter break, one week at Spring break, plus sick and paid time off during the school year that workers in other occupations do not enjoy. In addition, and really important, is the defined benefit pension plan that teachers enjoy, which appears to be unassailable in Sacramento given the political climate (it is underfunded btw). Nearly all other workers have a defined contribution plan that is much less secure. Important to compare apples to apples, not to oranges. Teachers have a pretty darn good deal from my viewpoint in the private sector, and just about finishing up my working summer months. Besides that, the State is broke, schools are chronically underfunded, and the kids need the money more than the adults!

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 9 months ago9 months ago

      I’ll refer you to the methodology section, Tom, in which the authors explain how they determined the average wage.

      • Tom 9 months ago9 months ago

        Ok sure. It looks like they avoid the issue because of "considerable controversy" that ensues about how much time teachers spend doing teaching prep and professional development during the summer, so that is not helpful. Professional development should be required (in my perfect world) since they are compensated based on working year-round. Why not? A quick search finds that the Economic Policy Institute is a D.C. based non-profit that is affiliated with the labor movement. … Read More

        Ok sure. It looks like they avoid the issue because of “considerable controversy” that ensues about how much time teachers spend doing teaching prep and professional development during the summer, so that is not helpful. Professional development should be required (in my perfect world) since they are compensated based on working year-round. Why not?

        A quick search finds that the Economic Policy Institute is a D.C. based non-profit that is affiliated with the labor movement. Based on that fact alone their research may be biased in that direction.

        • ann 8 months ago8 months ago

          I am in agreement with you, Tom, and I am in the profession. It's truly amazing how uninformed teachers are about their own compensation and benefits and how they compare to the private sector. I have another gripe though and that is with the thousands of 'non-profits' that often have op-eds on this site. Most are essentially community organizers and their websites do not have open links to their financials. An example 'Californians for Justice' … Read More

          I am in agreement with you, Tom, and I am in the profession. It’s truly amazing how uninformed teachers are about their own compensation and benefits and how they compare to the private sector. I have another gripe though and that is with the thousands of ‘non-profits’ that often have op-eds on this site. Most are essentially community organizers and their websites do not have open links to their financials. An example ‘Californians for Justice’ advocating for a jumbled accountability system that would essentially downplay the purpose of an education, is advertising for several $50k jobs with full benefits for “community organizing.”
          In their op ed they advocate for, “we have seen millions in new dollars directed to transforming school climate and promoting meaningful parent involvement by investing in programs and training to engage parents and build their capacity to be powerful partners in school transformation.” That is essentially using K-12 dollars on adults, not even teachers where we know 85-90% of the money already goes. I do disagree with the assertion we aren’t spending enough on schools. Misspending is rampant.

    • Justin 9 months ago9 months ago

      Tom, As a teacher, I would disagree with your assessment. This year, I ended the school year (contractually) on June 16. I then had a week long training to end the month of June, which paid an additional $50 per day (lost money as my wife normally works in the summer). I then returned for two more trainings in the beginning of August, before a final week of contractual training in the … Read More

      Tom,
      As a teacher, I would disagree with your assessment. This year, I ended the school year (contractually) on June 16. I then had a week long training to end the month of June, which paid an additional $50 per day (lost money as my wife normally works in the summer). I then returned for two more trainings in the beginning of August, before a final week of contractual training in the last week of August. That equates to 6 weeks of vacation in the summer.
      During the school year, I arise for work at 5:30 am every day, head to school around 6:30 and with lesson planning, grading and meetings do not usually go to bed (read as stop working) until 10 or 11 pm. I spend all day on Sundays grading and completing my required weekly lesson plans ahead of time (these take about 10 hours to write). In total, I am working at least 90 hours per week.
      I am not looking for sympathy or even a huge pay increase, but please stop assuming you understand. If teachers have it pretty good from where you sit, come be one. After 6 years of teaching in Northern Michigan, my gross pay was $31,050, with my net income around $19,000. Try raising a family on that when you have student debt. Thank you for taking the time to consider this and perhaps change your perception of what teaching is.

      • Todd Maddison 9 months ago9 months ago

        Certainly it's hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison, but your example alone helps prove the point. There are no - or, at least, probably very few - private sector jobs that allow for even six weeks of vacation with only six years on the job. Much less "immediately" as it is for teachers. I've been the "hiring manager" for hundreds of hires, have heard every attempt at negotiating "more vacation" as part of a pay … Read More

        Certainly it’s hard to get an apples-to-apples comparison, but your example alone helps prove the point.

        There are no – or, at least, probably very few – private sector jobs that allow for even six weeks of vacation with only six years on the job. Much less “immediately” as it is for teachers.

        I’ve been the “hiring manager” for hundreds of hires, have heard every attempt at negotiating “more vacation” as part of a pay package under the sun, and the absolute most anyone has ever been able to bring to the table is a competitive offer for three weeks vacation to start, four weeks after five years.

        MOST are two weeks after a year, three weeks after five years, four weeks after 10….

        In addition, you’re getting paid EXTRA for the training time? Isn’t that time that you’re already being paid for?

        As for the work schedule, sorry, but there are a huge number of private sector jobs – most managerial jobs – that require getting up early and staying late.

        I once worked 12 hours a day six days a week – for four years. It was not uncommon to do 10 hour days at least five days a week, plus time on Saturday.

        I know many teachers, and while they’re all hard-working, dedicated people, none of them work the hours you’re describing regularly. Certainly once in a while when necessary, but not regularly.

        On your pay, I don’t know that I care what the pay of a teacher with six years is. What is the average for your state?

        In CA, the average (according to the state Department of Ed) is around $78K/year. That is heavily weighted toward the most senior teachers – which is set up that way because of the contracts the unions negotiated, not because the state wants it that way.

        If anything, THAT is why it’s hard to attract new teachers, because the incumbents are allocating the salary dollars to the most senior (and to their benefit plans) rather than the incoming new teachers.

        You might be able to find average pay numbers in MI in your own government’s records, and I’d recommend taking up the low pay for “new” teachers (i.e. those with less than 20 years…!) with your union….

    • Stu 9 months ago9 months ago

      Tom, It may be different in some locations, but in Indiana teachers do NOT get paid time off during the summer. During my 35 year career as an educator in Indiana I received contracts which ran from August through June. The "time off" in the summer was unpaid. My checks came every two weeks throughout the school year and I budgeted well so I would have enough money to live during the summer months. When folks … Read More

      Tom,

      It may be different in some locations, but in Indiana teachers do NOT get paid time off during the summer. During my 35 year career as an educator in Indiana I received contracts which ran from August through June. The “time off” in the summer was unpaid. My checks came every two weeks throughout the school year and I budgeted well so I would have enough money to live during the summer months.

      When folks hear the word “vacation” they think “paid vacation.” For public school teachers, at least where I worked, there was no “paid vacation.” Just “days off.”

      • Tom 9 months ago9 months ago

        Stu, In California, K-12 teachers can usually elect to get their annual salary paid over the 9-month academic school year, and thus receive no checks over the summer, or, they can elect to get their annual salary spread out over the entire year. Either way, they get paid the same amount hence the "paid summer vacation." I regularly hear teachers (and support staff) making the claim that they don't get paid over the … Read More

        Stu, In California, K-12 teachers can usually elect to get their annual salary paid over the 9-month academic school year, and thus receive no checks over the summer, or, they can elect to get their annual salary spread out over the entire year. Either way, they get paid the same amount hence the “paid summer vacation.”

        I regularly hear teachers (and support staff) making the claim that they don’t get paid over the summer, and I always try to correct the record by that it is their choice not to! They hate it when a parent knows this and corrects them. Suspect Indiana pays teachers an equivalent annual salary accelerated to 9 months but perhaps does not give teachers the option of a 12 month pay schedule.

        • Kris 8 months ago8 months ago

          Even if teachers receive a paycheck over the summer, they aren't getting paid for summer break. Teachers get paid per contract day. In my county, we are required to work 201 days total (this eliminates all scheduled breaks- Christmas, summer, etc.) When teachers receive a paycheck during the summer, it is because the school system spread their paychecks out throughout the year so that the teacher doesn't haven't to go without for extended … Read More

          Even if teachers receive a paycheck over the summer, they aren’t getting paid for summer break. Teachers get paid per contract day. In my county, we are required to work 201 days total (this eliminates all scheduled breaks- Christmas, summer, etc.) When teachers receive a paycheck during the summer, it is because the school system spread their paychecks out throughout the year so that the teacher doesn’t haven’t to go without for extended weeks at a time.
          That being said, as a young teacher in a metropolitan area, I believe my starting salary is fair. But what is unfair is the amount of time it takes to accrue raises. Teachers aren’t given consistent raises. They go years without cost of living or experience raises, despite the fact that the school system promises annual raises. It will take me 15 years to make what my husband earned straight out of college. And I have a master’s while he only has a bachelor’s . All of that being said, I knew what I signed up for when I entered the system. And I certainly realize I make more money than I would in some other (mostly blue collar) industries. But that doesn’t make it right!