Among teacher shortage reports across the United States numbering in the hundreds of thousands, as well as violent and far-right vicious attacks on public schools, new research shows that teacher salaries are now at an all-time low.
A report released Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) finds that while there has long been a pay gap between teachers and comparable college graduates, that gap recently reached its highest level since the EPI began to record this data.
In 2021, according to the report, the weekly salary of teachers was 23.5% lower on average than that of other college graduates, adjusted for age, education, race and status. residence. That means teachers made about 76 cents on the dollar compared to other college graduates.
The report notes that this pay gap has widened since the mid-1990s, when it bottomed out at just around 5.1% in 1993 before beginning to deteriorate rapidly throughout the decade. Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Arizona and Alabama have the highest teacher pay gaps, with teachers earning 30% less than their college-educated non-teaching peers. There are no states in which teachers earn as much or more than their peers.
Even adjusted for benefits, teachers were still paid significantly less than other college graduates. With benefits such as pensions and health care included, teachers’ overall compensation was still 14.2% lower than their peers.
The supposed benefit of having a summer vacation away from work also does not compensate for salary penalties; PPE found in a similar report in 2019 that teachers are still working comparable hours on a weekly basis, noting that many teachers still attend trainings and conferences during the summer.
This wage gap could help explain the current shortage of teachers. The National Education Association, the largest teachers’ union in the United States, estimates that there is a shortage of nearly 300,000 teachers and support staff across the country. This is not just a crisis for public schools, but also for families and students, who can suffer from an understaffed education system. The shortage will also put new pressures on teachers, who were already very demoralized and endangered by the pandemic.
Escalation right wing attacks on teachers may also help explain the shortage, as the far right teachers of doxes and sends them death threats on actions like teaching the country’s history of racism or refusing to discriminate against LGBTQ children.
Conservative lawmakers are also far behind threats to the salaries of public school teachers. As IPE analysts wrote in 2019, falling teacher salaries are “the result of lower incomes that states have caused themselves by cutting tax rates.” For example, a 2016 report cited by the authors found that half of states provided less funding to elementary schools in 2016 than before the recession, adjusted for inflation.
In recent years, low salaries have prompted teachers to go on strike across the country; 2018 and 2019 saw a huge wave in teacher strikes, including a strike in Oklahoma in which about 30,000 teachers went on strike for more than a week, closing nearly half of the state’s school districts. Teachers in multiple states continued such strikes this year, with thousands of teachers walking off the job to protest severe shortages, low pay and burnout.
EPI writes that the only way to address teacher pay shortfalls is through “targeted and meaningful policy action – not just on teacher pay, but on school funding more generally,” and points out that the The pay gap plays a significant role in discouraging teachers from keeping their jobs and university graduates from becoming teachers.
“This report again sounds the alarm about the long erosion of relative teacher salaries and the widening gap in total compensation,” writes the author, “that makes prospects of attracting and retaining difficult at best. teachers needed to alleviate shortages”.