This chart compares the average teacher pay with the median individual income for all workers in each state, adjusted for inflation, over the last two decades. In 1998, California teachers earned 59 percent more than the median worker pay, including temporary and part-time workers, earned; that difference rose to 68 percent in 2002 but narrowed to 41 percent in 2015. The relationship tends to be counter-cyclical; during recessions, teachers appear to be better protected from layoffs and pay cuts than private sector workers. The difference narrows during a recovery, with low unemployment and rising private sector wages.

The chart also offers a clear explanation why West Virginia teachers went on strike in 2018. In 1998, California teachers earned 59 percent more than the median pay for other workers, including temporary and part-time workers; that difference rose to 68 percent in 2002 but narrowed to 41. By 2014-15, the difference was only 25 percent more, as teachers’ pay had stagnated.

(Note: In this chart, 100 percent indicates parity, the point at which teachers and other workers earn the same amount of money.)

Chart by John C. Osborn. Updated by Daniel J. Willis, Justin Allen and Yuxuan Xie

Note: Each year in the charts and graphs refers to both the calendar year and the fiscal year. Thus, 2013 incorporated data from the fiscal year 2013-14 (July 1 through June 30) as well as the calendar year 2013.