Two new looks at what’s hurting the teaching profession: declining salaries

It’s not news to those of you in the teaching profession, but here are two new looks at empirical evidence that show teachers are earning less than they did in previous years and that the gap between teacher salaries and what comparable professions earn continues to grow.

First, here are a few findings in updated research from the Economic Policy Institute titled, The teacher pay penalty has hit a new high: Trends in the teacher wage and compensation gaps through 2017.”

The mid-1990s marks the start of a period of sharply eroding teacher pay and an escalating teacher pay penalty

  • Average weekly wages of public school teachers (adjusted for inflation) decreased $27 from 1996 to 2017, from $1,164 to $1,137 (in 2017 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of other college graduates rose from $1,339 to $1,476 over this period.
  • For all public-sector teachers, the relative wage gap (regression-adjusted for education, experience, and other factors known to affect earnings) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher wage penalty was 1.8 percent in 1994, grew to 4.3 percent in 1996, and reached a record 18.7 percent in 2017.

Wage penalties have grown significantly for both male and female teachers

  • The wage premium that female teachers had in the 1960s and 1970s has long been erased, replaced by a growing wage penalty. Our previous research found that female teachers earned 14.7 percent more in weekly wages than comparable female workers in 1960. This report finds that the teacher weekly wage premium for female teachers had fallen to 4.2 percent in 1979. And the wage premium for female teachers largely disappeared in the 1980s and 1990s, replaced by a large and growing wage penalty in the 2000s and 2010s. In 2017, female public school teachers were making 15.6 percent less in wages than comparable female workers.
  • The wage penalty for male teachers is much larger. The weekly wage penalty for male teachers was 22.1 percent in 1979 and improved to 15.1 percent in 1994, but worsened in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. In 2017, male public school teachers were making 26.8 percent less in wages than comparable male workers.
    Improvements in benefits relative to professionals have not been enough to offset the growing teacher wage penalty
  • The public school teacher wage penalty grew from 17.0 percent to 18.7 percent from 2015 to 2017.

While the study notes that the wage penalty is reduced by a “benefit advantage” (e.g. health care benefits) for many teachers–something Texas teachers may find hard to believe–it concludes that the benefit advantage “has not been enough to offset the growing wage penalty….The bottom line is that the teacher compensation penalty grew by 11.4 percentage points from 1994 to 2017.”

There’s a lot more to dig into with the study, but we’ll add one final disturbing stat: The wage penalty for texas teachers is 12th highest in the nation at a whopping 28.9 percent.

The second look is at an article in this week’s Guardian titled, “Teacher pay drops 5% in last decade – despite better qualified staff: New report shows teacher pay is declining, even as more educators have master’s degrees and doctorates.”

The article looks at a study from Michael Hanson at the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, that notes:

  • As a wave of teacher strikes and protests swept several states last spring, researchers found that after adjusting for inflation, teacher salaries had fallen by an average of 4.6% compared with the school year that started in 2009, according to data from the Digest of Education Statistics.
  • Some observers argued the drop wasn’t driven by school districts getting stingier, but by baby boomer teachers retiring and being replaced by younger millennials, who earn less earlier in their careers. The new report found that doesn’t pan out – the average teacher was actually three months older in 2016 than in 2007, before the recession.
  • And teachers have racked up more advanced degrees that typically come with bigger paychecks–54% have master’s degrees, up from 49% before the recession. The share of teachers with a doctoral degree rose from 2.5% to 4.5%.

The Guardian article is part of a series called The Guardian US Teacher Takeover, with teachers guest-editing the U.S. edition to highlight the crisis in American classrooms and rising teacher activism. Editors met with more than a dozen teachers at the AFT convention this summer to develop themes for the project. It includes original reporting as well as an opportunity for educators to contribute to an ongoing forum where they can describe what they need to help improve America’s schools. We encourage you follow the series, and we’ll be commenting on some of the stories in upcoming Hotlines as well.