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News from EPI Teachers earn 17 percent less in wages than similar workers

In The teacher pay gap is wider than ever, EPI President Lawrence Mishel and UC Berkeley economist and EPI research associate Sylvia Allegretto find that teacher’s wages and compensation continue to fall relative to comparable workers. When adjusted for education, experience, and demographic factors, teachers earned 4.3 percent less than other workers in 1996, while in 2015 the teacher wage penalty had grown to 17 percent.

Although teachers on average enjoy better benefits packages than similar workers, Mishel and Allegretto find that benefits only mitigate part of the wage gap. Including benefits, teachers are still left with a record-high 11.1 percent compensation gap compared to similar workers.

“In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts should be paying them more than their peers,” said Mishel. “Instead, teachers face low wages, high levels of student debt, and increasing demands on the job. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need.”

Collective bargaining does abate part of the wage gap. Teachers benefiting from collective bargaining have a wage gap 6 percentage points less than teachers who are nonunion.

“Once again, unions prove their importance in protecting teachers from a much larger pay gap,” said Allegretto. “For women, especially, being a member of a teacher’s union can have a major impact on earnings.”

The growing wage penalty for teachers has contributed to an insufficient supply of teachers at every stage of the career ladder. A recent study showed that only 5 percent of college-bound students were interested in education. Moreover increased pressure from testing, state budget cuts, and demand for smaller class sizes has put strains on retaining sufficient mid-career teachers.

Other key findings include:

  • Since 1996, teacher pay has decreased $30 per week (from $1,222 to $1,092 in 2015.) In this same time period, college graduates’ average weekly wages have increased from $1,292 to $1,416 in 2015.
  • Experienced teachers have felt the erosion in pay more than entry-level teachers. In 1996, the most experienced teachers enjoyed a pay premium of +1.9 percent. In 2015, it had fallen to a pay penalty of -17.8 percent.
  • The wage penalty has grown remarkably among women. In 1960, female teachers earned 14.7 percent more than comparable female workers. However, in 2015, the authors find a -13.9 percent wage gap for female teachers.
  • The wage penalty for male teachers is much larger. The male teacher wage gap was -22.1 percent in 1979 and improved to 15.0 percent in the mid-1990s, but worsened in the late 1990s into the early 2000s. It stood at 24.5 percent in 2015.