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News from EPI The teacher pay penalty hit a new high in 2021

The relative teacher weekly wage penalty between teachers and their non-teacher counterparts grew to a record 23.5% in 2021, according to a new Economic Policy Report.

This gap in pay, when adjusted for education, experience, and demographic characteristics, has been worsening over time, hurting students in public education by undermining teacher retention and recruitment, a problem that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Inflation-adjusted average weekly wages of teachers have been relatively flat since 1996, the report finds, increasing just $29 over this period. Importantly, the benefits advantage for teachers, including employer costs for health insurance and retirement plans, is not enough to offset the growth of the teacher relative wage penalty. With those accounted for, the total teacher compensation penalty was still considerable at 14.2% in 2021, up 11.5 percentage points from 1993.

“Providing teachers with compensation commensurate with that of other similarly educated professionals is not simply a matter of fairness but is necessary to improve educational outcomes and foster future economic stability of workers, their families, and communities across the U.S,” explains Sylvia Allegretto, author of the report and EPI research associate.

The financial penalty that teachers face discourages college students from entering the teaching profession and makes it difficult for school districts to keep current teachers in the classroom. Coupled with pandemic challenges that exposed and heightened long-standing issues, these penalties may exacerbate annual shortages of regular and substitute teachers.

“Without targeted and significant policy action—not just on teacher pay but on school funding more generally—there can be no reasonable expectation of reversal in sight for pandemic-stressed schools and those who serve public education,” Allegretto notes.