Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! If you believe that teachers are important and that they change lives, become an advocate for higher pay for teachers.

The Economic Policy Institute is one of the very few think tanks in D.C. (maybe the only think tank) that is not funded by billionaires. It focuses on economic issues affecting working people and issues of economic justice.

In this post, Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel document the wage gap between teachers and their peers with similar education.

Teachers are not paid equitably. They have good reason to strike for higher wages. In most states, teachers are unlikely to get higher wages unless they strike.

Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance.1 To promote children’s success in school, schools must retain credentialed teachers and ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option for college-bound students. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.

The deepening teacher wage and compensation penalty over the recovery parallels a growing shortage of teachers. Every state headed into the 2017–2018 school year facing a teacher shortage (Strauss 2017). New research by García and Weiss (2019) indicates the persistence and magnitude of the teacher shortage nationwide:

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers. (1)

García and Weiss explain why the teacher shortage matters:

A shortage of teachers harms students, teachers, and the public education system as a whole. Lack of sufficient, qualified teachers and staff instability threaten students’ ability to learn and reduce teachers’ effectiveness, and high teacher turnover consumes economic resources that could be better deployed elsewhere. The teacher shortage makes it more difficult to build a solid reputation for teaching and to professionalize it, which further contributes to perpetuating the shortage. In addition, the fact that the shortage is distributed so unevenly among students of different socioeconomic backgrounds challenges the U.S. education system’s goal of providing a sound education equitably to all children…

Teacher wage and compensation penalties grew over the recovery since 2010

  • The public school teacher weekly wage penalty grew from 13.5 percent to 21.4 percent between 2010 and 2018.
  • Teacher benefits improved relative to benefits for other professionals from 2010 to 2018, boosting the teacher benefits advantage from 4.8 percent to 8.4 percent. Despite this improvement, the total compensation (wage and benefit) penalty for public school teachers grew from 8.7 percent in 2010 to 13.1 percent in 2018.

The wage penalty is a result of state policy, not the recession of 2008. Legislators cut taxes and revenues.

Teacher weekly wage penalties vary across the states

  • We report teacher weekly wage penalties for each state for the period 2014–2018. State wage penalties are based on regression-adjusted analyses using a sample of college graduates in each state. Teacher penalties range from 0.2 percent to 32.6 percent.
  • Four of the seven states with the largest teacher wage penalties—Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Colorado—were, unsurprisingly, ground zero for the 2018 teacher protests, helping to draw national attention to the erosion of teacher pay. In these states, teachers earned at least 26 percent less than comparable college graduates.
  • In 21 states and D.C., the teacher wage penalties are greater than 20 percent.