Teacher Compensation vs. Professions with Similar Education

It’s no secret that teachers have been historically underpaid, even when one fails to consider the additional, unpaid work time spent outside of the classroom grading papers and writing lesson plans. However, many individuals fail to realize just how bad the teacher pay gap has been growing recently; compared to other professions that require a Bachelor’s degree. Teachers across the country earn, on average, 18.7% less. Even compensating for the fact that teachers generally are afforded better healthcare and vacation benefits, this wage gap still hovers around 11%.

Have teachers always been paid less?

While the average weekly wages of other college-educated professionals have risen steadily over the past 20 years, the average American teacher weekly wages have fallen when adjusting for inflation. The 18.7% average American wage gap is simply that, an average. 

The data is more telling when each individual state is examined. Wyoming, for instance, compensates their teachers relatively well compared to similar professions, with teachers in Wyoming earning only 3% less than their college-educated peers. However, in states such as Arizona and Colorado, the wage gap reaches 36%.

In Michigan, for instance, the average starting salary of teachers is around $36,000 per year, substantially lower than almost every other profession which requires a Bachelor’s degree. In 2017, public school teachers across America earned an average of $1,137 per week, while other full-time workers with college degrees earned an average of $1,476 in the same amount of time. Over the past decade, the average American teacher salary has increased by 15.2%, but when inflation is accounted for, teacher salaries have actually decreased by 3%.

With such a large wage gap amidst such a stressful job, is it any wonder that at least 30 out of the 50 states have reported significant teacher shortages?

Do teachers work less than other professionals?

While admitting that these wage gaps are high, many individuals believe teachers earn less simply because less work is required of them. For instance, critics may point out that teachers have the summer off of work, which means they should be paid less because they spend less time working. However, simply because teachers are not in their regular classroom during summer, does not mean that teachers are not working. 

Many teachers opt to teach summer school or take on a second job to use their “time off” to gain financial stability. Many teachers also use summertime to study for and take their certification exams for additional subjects and grade levels or to update expiring certifications. Teachers may also plan for the upcoming school year, including spending an average of $500 per school year on supplies out of their own pocket. Many teachers also earn graduate degrees during the summer to advance their careers. This extra time working during the summer is not compensated for.

Clearly, teachers must be dedicated professionals in order to stay with their current jobs under such financial hardships. Still, many dedicated teachers simply cannot afford to continue with their current careers given the financial circumstances. They have families to support and bills to pay. Can we blame them for wanting their efforts to be recognized?

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