The average U.S. teacher salary for 2002 was $44,367, a 2.7 percent increase over the previous year, according to the American Federation of Teachers’ annual report on teacher salary trends. Intended as a reference for union affiliates and policymakers, the report, released this week, brings together a wealth of useful information on the teaching market.
The average salary for new teachers in 2002, the AFT records, was $30,719, up 3.2 percent over the previous year. The report attributes this increase to lingering teacher shortages. However, it notes that “the pressure to increase teacher salaries is abating,” with fewer subject areas reporting “considerable shortages” and many states now under fiscal strain.
Shortages continued, the report says, for teachers of math, physics, chemistry, earth science, biology and Spanish. By contrast, there was an oversupply of physical education teachers, and an even balance of elementary school teachers.
Teacher salaries differed widely across the states, in part due to cost of living differences, the union notes. California had the highest average salary in 2001-2002, at $54,348. Other states at the higher end of the scale included New Jersey, New York, Connecticut; and Rhode Island. Factoring in cost-of-living differences, the average salary in Pennsylvania ($50,599) had the strongest purchasing power.
South Dakota had the lowest average salary at $31,383, with North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Mississippi close behind. The cost of living in South Dakota is some 30 percent lower than in top- paying California, the report notes, which may account in part for the disparity.
While allowing that the 2.7 average teacher salary increase in 2001-2002 amounted to the “largest- inflation-adjusted salary increase” since the 1980s, the AFT charges that teacher salaries still pale in comparison to those of other white-collar workers. Responding to a frequent objection, the union estimates that this would be true even if teachers worked a 12-month year.
And besides, it says, most teachers are pretty busy in the summer nowadays anyway.