Teaching Profession

Study Finds Teachers Are Losing Ground On Salary Front

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — October 02, 2004 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Teachers’ salaries have slipped over the past decade to well below those of comparable professions, a trend that is certain to complicate efforts to recruit and retain highly qualified educators for the nation’s public schools, asserts a report released last week by the Economic Policy Institute.

The report “How Does Teacher Pay Compare?: Methodological Challenges and Answers,” is available from the Economic Policy Institute.

The report, “How Does Teacher Pay Compare?: Methodological Challenges and Answers,” joins a number of conflicting salary studies in recent years—including ones suggesting that when teachers’ benefits and work hours are figured in their pay compares favorably with that in other professions requiring similar levels of knowledge and skills.

But the new study, which is based on data and methods different from those of previous analyses, contends that its conclusions reflect the salary disparities more accurately.

“No matter how we analyze the data, we find that teachers earn less than comparable workers,” said Lawrence Mishel, the president of the Washington-based institute. “And when you look at what’s happened over the last 10 years, it’s apparent that teachers have lost substantial ground in terms of pay.”

Mr. Mishel and his co-authors, Sylvia A. Allegretto and Sean P. Corcoran, relied heavily on results from household surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which ask employees about their wages and work hours. The researchers concluded that the National Compensation Survey, which includes wage and work-hour data collected from employers and has been used for other salary comparisons, does not fully measure the time teachers work in a given week relative to the hours of workers in other professions.

A recent Education Week analysis of survey data for more than 500 school districts found that their average teacher salary had declined by nearly 2 percent in inflation-adjusted dollars over the past decade. (“Schools Chiefs Lead The Way in Pay Trends,” June 23, 2004.)

For the EPI study, teachers’ salaries were compared against those of accountants, journalists, registered nurses, computer programmers, clergy, and several other professions. Weekly wages were used to allow comparisons between those professionals who work throughout the year and others, such as teachers, on part-year contracts.

Comparatively Speaking

According to the EPI analysis, teachers’ wages have slipped behind other workers with similar education and experience by nearly 15 percent since 1993 and 12 percent since 1983, after adjusting for inflation. In 2003, teachers earned an average of $833 in gross pay a week, compared with $1,078 for other college graduates. Side by side with comparable professions, teachers earned $116 less per week that year. And while other college graduates saw weekly wages increase some 12 percent since 1996, teachers’ paychecks grew just 0.8 percent in that time.

Although teachers tend to receive greater benefits, such as health insurance and pensions, the authors say, those extras are not valuable enough to make up for the differences in wages. Teachers also do not generally earn the same paid leave, bonuses, and overtime common in other professions.

The pay gap could undermine the push to hire qualified teachers, the researchers said.

“Over time, the wage gap between teachers and their peers becomes a gulf that can sabotage the best schools’ efforts to recruit and retain the best teachers,” said Ms. Allegretto, an economist at the institute, a nonpartisan think tank supported in part by labor unions.

But some experts are skeptical of the new analysis. Michael Podgursky, a professor of economics at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said the reliance on wage data reported by employees potentially poses difficulties for researchers. Asking teachers, for example, about their weekly pay does not necessarily take into account that their salaries for the nine or 10 months of the year they work may be spread out over 52 weekly pay periods, skewing the amount, he said.

“Their big claim,” he said, referring to the EPI authors, “is that the pay has deteriorated. … But I would want to see that verified from some other survey.”

The authors are still analyzing the data to tease out wage trends in different regions of the country, in union vs. nonunion jurisdictions, and by other demographics such as age.

A version of this article appeared in the September 01, 2004 edition of Education Week as Study Finds Teachers Are Losing Ground On Salary Front

Events

Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
STEM Fusion: Empowering K-12 Education through Interdisciplinary Integration
Join our webinar to learn how integrating STEM with other subjects can revolutionize K-12 education & prepare students for the future.
Content provided by Project Lead The Way
School & District Management Webinar How Pensions Work: Why It Matters for K-12 Education
Panelists explain the fundamentals of teacher pension finances — how they are paid for, what drives their costs, and their impact on K-12 education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Teaching Profession Teachers Are Pushing for Paid Parental Leave. How It's Going
Efforts to implement paid parental leave policies are slowly gaining traction, with teachers often advocating on their own behalf.
7 min read
Image of a pregnant person at work.
E+
Teaching Profession In Their Own Words Cellphones Turned My Teaching Career From 'Awesome' to Exhausting
A former high school teacher shares how his students' increasing reliance on cellphones drove him out of the classroom.
5 min read
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Mitchell Rutherford, who taught biology at Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Ariz., left the profession due, in part, to students' cell phone usage. Here, pictured at Finger Rock Trailhead in Tucson on June 8, 2024.
Cassidy Araiza for Education Week
Teaching Profession Teachers’ Unions Are Gaining Ground in a State That Once Forbade Them
With unions now representing educators in its largest district, Virginia is seeing a labor resurgence.
7 min read
Image of a folder and a signed agreement.
iStock/Getty