At a time when regional teacher shortages and high turnover rates are rife in school systems, a new report by the Economic Policy Institute may offer some explanation: The gap between U.S. teachers’ pay and that of comparable workers is greater than ever before.
EPI, a nonprofit think tank that works to include low- and middle-income workers in economic policy discussions, has studied the teacher pay gap for years. The average annual U.S. teacher salary in 2015 was $57,200 for high school teachers and $54,550 for elementary teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (though compensation varies by state.) But a long-term analysis by EPI shows that U.S. teachers earn lower wages than all other comparable workers (defined as those with the same education and experience). The pay gap—calculated in the study by average weekly compensation—has grown significantly over the past few decades.
For all public school teachers, regardless of experience, age, or gender, the relative wage gap was at a record -17 percent in 2015, according to the study. (To put this in perspective, the gap was less than -2 percent in the early 1990s.) The average weekly salary, adjusted for inflation, also decreased by $30 from 1996 to 2015. These stark changes may be due in part to an increase in other benefits beyond wages—such as paid leave, health insurance, and retirement funds—which the study found is important for many teachers. Still, the total compensation gap, with non-wage benefits factored in, was -11.1 percent in 2015.
Here are some other findings from the study:
- Male teachers face a larger wage gap (-24 percent in 2015) than their female counterparts do (who were at -13.9 comparatively in 2015). But the gap has changed significantly for women over the decades, too: In 1960, women teachers earned 14.7 percent more than female workers in comparable professions.
- Experienced teachers have seen a larger deterioration in wages over the years (-17.8 percent in 2015) than entry-level teachers, when both are compared to other workers of similar education and experience—a stark contrast from a 1.9 percentage advantage in pay comparability veteran teachers had nearly a decade ago. New teachers, by contrast, faced a -11.5 percent gap in 1996, which grew to -16.4 percent in 2015.
- Public school teachers who are not part of a union make even less. In 2015, they experienced a -25.5 percent gap.
In their findings, authors Lawrence Mishel, who is president of the Economic Policy Institute, and labor economist Sylvia A. Allegretto, who is chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at University of California, Berkeley, cite recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers as crucial issues in K-12 education today, and say that in order to draw new teachers to the profession, fair compensation is necessary.
“Continued budget austerity at all levels of government have created pressure to restrain teacher compensation,” Mishel wrote in an email. “The consequence is greater difficulty to recruit and retain the teachers all policymakers say we need.”
Graph: Economic Policy Institute
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.