Women and Teachers Said Among Most Underpaid

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Teachers, child-care workers, and college professors are among the most "underpaid'' employees in the nation, according to a new analysis of data from the 1980 U.S. Census.

And women and minorities in those professions, the study concludes, would benefit from new "pay equity'' plans designed to equalize the pay men, women, and members of minority groups receive for comparable jobs, education levels, and experience.

The new study, prepared by the National Committee on Pay Equity, a coalition of labor, women's, and civil-rights groups, is the most pointed in its criticism of occupational pay scales of two reports issued this month on the economic status of women.

On March 3, the U.S. Census Bureau released its own study, "Women in the American Economy,'' saying that, although American women have more and better jobs than ever before, they remain concentrated in low-paying occupations.

In 1984, the Census Bureau report states, women who worked year round, full time, earned about 64 percent of what men earned--an increase from 59 percent in 1970.

'Underpaid' Teachers

Both reports have significance for the teaching profession, said educators and authors of the studies. Women account for 60.8 percent of all elementary-school teachers and 39.3 percent of secondary-school teachers, according to the N.C.P.E. study.

The Census Bureau report states, in fact, that in 1979, every sixth woman 35 to 44 years old with five or more years of college was an elementary-school teacher.

"It was seen as a woman's job, historically,'' said Ruth Whitman, a spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's second-largest teachers' union.

The N.C.P.E. study, which was funded by the Ford Foundation, goes a step further than the Census Bureau report in assessing the meaning of such numbers.

The pay-equity group calculates what women in the cited professions would earn if, in its view, they were properly compensated for their educational levels and experience. In the resulting list of the 25 most "underpaid'' occupations, elementary-school teachers ranked 10th and secondary-school teachers 13th. Professionals in both fields would earn, under the N.C.P.E. formula, about $10,000 more annually.

Child-care workers, who were ranked as the second most underpaid, would double their average salary of $7,119 a year, the group said, if they were rewarded for their training and education.

College professors--only 21.3 percent of whom are women--were the least underpaid on the list, with a gap of $13,000 between what they earn now and could earn under the study's compensation formula.

"I think the reason there's a shortage of teachers is because they're so underpaid,'' said Claudia Wayne, executive director of the N.C.P.E.

The gaps between achievement and compensation, she said, are even greater for minority women in all jobs for which females constitute the majority of the work force. The study also measured wage differences between the salaries of white men and minority men, finding that the salaries of black and Hispanic men were 73 percent and 72 percent, respectively, of those of white men.

The primary reason for such disparities is discrimination, the study asserts. "While pay equity is not the total answer,'' it says, "we, nevertheless, conclude it is a significant step toward closing the wage gap.''

Pay-Equity Plans

Spokesmen for the A.F.T. and the National Education Association said that both studies confirm what they have been saying for years: that teachers are not being paid enough.

"If it was the other way around, and 70 percent of all teachers were male, I think salaries would have been up a long time ago,'' said Howard Carroll, a spokesman for the N.E.A.

However, while both organizations have supported the concept of pay equity--or "comparable worth,'' as it is also called--the campaign to restructure compensation systems along those lines is of lower priority for the unions than the need to improve the status of teachers through current education-reform efforts.

"We support the concept of comparable worth, but that's not the vehicle to solve this problem,'' Mr. Carroll said. "We would support salary increases tied to the concept of excellence and improving the quality of teaching.''

Added Ms. Whitman of the A.F.T.: "We see it as something that goes beyond comparable worth.''

According to Ms. Wayne of the N.C.P.E., 27 states "have done or are doing'' job-evaluation studies to determine if sex has been a factor in their compensation systems. Three states and the District of Columbia are also assessing the role of race in such systems, and 17 states have begun to implement pay-equity plans.

So far, most of those plans have addressed state-government employment systems, and not local jurisdictions, which most often employ teachers. One exception is Minnesota, where a legislative mandate requires all public employers in the state to devise and install a comparable-worth program.

But, according to Lee Anderson, a consultant who has drawn up such plans for school systems in St. Paul, Minneapolis, and several nearby suburbs, few teachers have gotten pay raises in those cities as a result of new comparable-worth plans.

"Food-service workers, clerical groups, instructional aides, and supervisory aides seem to get most of the increases,'' said Mr. Anderson. Unlike the N.C.P.E. study, which takes a national view, comparable-worth plans in Minnesota weigh inequities within their own systems, he added.

In contrast to the N.C.P.E. study, the Census Bureau report draws no sharp conclusions about widespread discrimination in the workplace, pay equity, or other controversial issues.

"There is a gap in the wages of males and females, but neither the reasons for it nor the extent of it can be precisely stated,'' the study's authors, Cynthia M. Taeuber and Victor Valdisera concluded.

Among the possible reasons they list for the segregation of women in lower-paying jobs are: the pressures of family responsibility, which force women to miss more work, accept flexible but lower-paying jobs, or spend less time earning seniority with a single employer; the predilection of women for fields of study that lead to lower-paying jobs; and some discrimination on the part of male management-level employers, who "tend to choose people they are comfortable with.''

The median income of women working full time in 1984 was $15,600, compared with $24,004 for men, that study says.

Copies of "Women in the American Economy'' are available for sale from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402. The report is listed as Series P-23, No. 146, of the U.S. Bureau of the Census's Current Population Reports.

The N.C.P.E. study, titled "Pay Equity: An Issue of Race, Ethnicity, And Sex,''can be obtained at a cost of $14.95 for nonmembers or $9.95 for members by writing the National Committee on Pay Equity, 1201 16th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, or calling (202) 802-7304. Executive summaries of the report are also available for $4.

Vol. 06, Issue 25

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