Teacher Pay Still Losing Ground

When Jason Hubler, a fifth grade teacher from Jefferson County, Kentucky, heard a Fox News host claim families making $250,000 a year aren’t rich, he was floored.

“Maybe at the end of my career I might earn a third of that. But yet teachers are considered overpaid?” he asks in astonishment.

Hubler is weary of all the news reports claiming that overpaid, greedy teachers are to blame for budgets shortfalls and are simply unwilling to sacrifice. He works at least 10 hours a day and many weekends, has a master’s degree, and pays for extra supplies for his classroom out of his own pocket. He’s even used his own money to rebuild computers so everyone in his class has access to technology.

After 12 years in the classroom, Hubler makes $50,000 a year. He feels he puts in more than his fair share, and yet, when he compares his level of education and years of experience on the job with those in the private sector, he finds a discernable difference in pay.

Turns out Hubler is right, and the pay difference is more than discernable.

According to a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), public school teachers in 2010 earned about 12 percent less than comparable workers – a pay gap that’s been persistent for the past two decades and that accelerated between 1996 and 2000, an economic boom time for other workers.

“The teacher pay penalty is much larger than it was 50 years ago,” says Lawrence Mishel, co-author of The Teaching Penalty: An Update Through 2010. “And it grew over the last 15 years because teachers didn’t benefit from the late 1990s boom in wages that other workers experienced.”

With so much attention on how teachers are faring during this recession, it’s easy to forget that nobody complained when they didn’t receive the big wage increases the private sector enjoyed during the heyday of real estate bubbles, dotcom booms, and economic prosperity. It was a period of low unemployment and the only period of rapid pay growth over the past forty years, yet none of it trickled down to educators.

Pay No Attention to What’s Behind the Curtain

Renee Moore has been a tax-paying, hard-working classroom teacher in Mississippi for more than 20 years, and she resents the notion that her state pension is a gift from other taxpayers.

“A hefty chunk of our own paychecks goes into that retirement fund every month and year,” she says. “That’s in addition to the money we pay into Social Security and taxes like almost everyone else—everyone except those who make so much money, they barely pay taxes at all. Teacher pension packages breaking the state budget? Hardly.”

Moore wants to know why, instead of picking on teachers, other taxpayers aren’t accusing the wealthy of shirking their fair share.

That’s because right-wing politicians don’t want people looking at the very wealthy. In a strategy of divide and conquer, they’d rather pit private sector workers against public employees than have them pay attention to the fact that wages in both the public and the private sector have fallen far behind gains in U.S. productivity. They also don’t want middle class workers to know that the top five percent of Americans hold almost 65 percent of the country’s wealth.

The Rich Get Richer

Between 1989 and 2010, U.S. productivity grew by 62.5 percent, but wages only grew by 12 percent for both private sector and public workers. When the recession hit – with its foreclosures, falling housing values, and skyrocketing employment – it devastated the net worth of millions of Americans. But the wealthy kept getting wealthier.

“Typical workers and families continue to struggle against high rates of unemployment, stagnating wages, and foreclosure, while the wealthy have enjoyed significant gains in the stock market, and benefited from corporate profits,” says Economic Policy Institute economist Sylvia Allegretto.

And right-wing politicians like New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie are exacerbating the situation by rewarding the wealthy with tax breaks.

“You know, at some point there has to be parity,” Christie said in a speech last year. “There has to be parity between what is happening in the real world, and what is happening in the public sector world.”

Some in New Jersey are questioning whether Christie knows the definition of parity.

The average salary for public school teachers in his state is $67,000. But Christie has rewarded millionaires by extending income tax breaks for those earning over $1 million dollars.

At a town hall meeting last month, Christie said that the “most important thing to student success is the quality of the teacher in front of the classroom.”

But how do you attract the best and brightest to classrooms when you continue to chip away at their salaries and silence their voices at the bargaining table?

“You can’t on one hand say that an effective teacher is the most important thing in a school and on the other hand not pay attention to the pay and working conditions those teachers need to be effective in their profession,” says EPI’s Mishel.

What it boils down to is what people believe a teacher’s value is to society.

While Wall Street hands out millions in salaries and bonuses to attract top talent, parents at Jason Hubler’s school back in Kentucky accuse teachers of being overpaid if they’re seen driving a convertible.

“It’s disheartening,” he says.

Learn more about how NEA advocates for professional educator salaries by visiting www.nea.org/pay.

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  • bill

    heres the issue i have that the article doesnt state…1. most teachers cant get laid off because of tenure..so it would be nice for anyone in the private sector to know that they have a job until THEY decide that they are finished working..2. how much does the average teacher pay into their health insurance. i work in the private sector and pay upwards of $10k a year for my families medical benefits..3. most people in the private sector are not awarded a pension..THEY have to put money into a 401k, IF they have any money left over to do so

  • Karen

    This is a response to Bill,
    1. Teachers do not have tenure…they have due process; which means they have the right to respond to any charges. If an administrator has just cause they can fire any teacher.
    2.I pay $900 a month for my families health insurance…that is $10,800 a year.
    3. Teachers are required to pay social security, 3% of their salary to the state retirement fund, and whatever their local corporation requires for their 401K/403B contributions…ours is 3.5% of our salary. So you see we pay into our retirement.

    Please to not believe all the negative propaganda!

  • Ryan Y

    Speaking from California:

    Teachers (I’m one) can’t compare salaries with other sectors with equal degrees and experience.

    It is a folly to assume we get paid off our degrees. Workers get paid off of what they produce and since teachers don’t produce a product that can be sold, which brings back revenue, we can only be paid with what state taxation brings in.

    Since we are a state’s most expensive investment, tax revenues would not be able to support much more than we already get. Now, if you end the massive welfare system, make the bottom half of tax payers pay their fair share of taxes, we could then have more revenue and then an uptick in pay.

    For 170 days of work I get:
    $61,000 in salary
    $11,000 in health care
    8.5% employer contribution to my retirement ($5,185)
    2.2% state contribution to my retirement ($1,342)

    All in all, California invests $78,527 with me alone. That’s $461 dollars a day / 7.5 hours = $61.46 an hour.

    Because I have a stay at home wife and 2 kids, I ultimately pay very little tax after deductions and credits.

    I think I’m paid just fine. Though, I do think there are plenty of teachers who are overpaid due to their ineffective classroom management, poor teaching abilities, and late to arrive, early to leave strategies.

  • Ryan Y

    One more thing. If you want a pay raise, leave the NEA and save $162 dollars in dues.

  • Ryan Y

    Even more,

    In my district, each year, we get 12 paid sick days, and 5 paid personal days (which does not need to be explained).

    $105 dollars per substitute x 17 paid days off = an extra $1,785 tax burden for tax payers.

    We do NOT have it bad…at least in my state.

  • Eedaysh

    Ryan Y: I do not believe most teachers are asking for more, as they realize it is a difficult economic climate. They just do not want to lose too much of what what they already have. Would you continue teaching with significant cuts to what you are making? That is the fear.

  • rfteacher3

    My tax dollars helped to bail out corporations. My legislators allowed that to happen. Wake up America…there are many more working class than wealthy. Go to your window and shout, “I’m not going to take it any longer.” Then tell your legislators the same thing. Vote no to these budget cuts or they can kiss re-election goodbye…and mean it. Don’t forget.

  • TeachUSAMD

    This portion of my comment is a response to Bill.

    1. As Karen said, teachers have due process. Most “poor teachers” never get tenure. They’re identified as “wrong for this task” and are not kept in their positions. Some teachers, however, lose their spark, so to speak, throughout their teaching career. They are also identified and are given the opportunity for remediation. Should remediation not work for them, they are let go; yes, that includes tenured teachers.

    That having been said, not every teacher is right for every child, or gets along with every parent. There are personality conflicts, difficult periods in the life of children/parents, the child’s interest in the subject material, and a host of other factors that affect a child’s success in a particular class. Simply because a child fails does not mean that the teacher failed the child. However, when most children consistently fail a given teacher’s class, that teacher can be fired. Your claim that teachers have jobs until they want to leave them is only partially true, as there is no shortage of children that need an education. Education has always been a growing field, unlike, say… The steel industry in the United States. When there are fewer and fewer children that need an education, then perhaps there will be a lesser need for teachers.
    2. It’s nice that you pay upwards of $10K/year for your family’s medical benefits. Teachers have no effect on what you pay for your medical insurance. That’s a straw-man argument.

    However, in the interests of open communication, I pay just over $1.4K/year for my single-insured HMO plan. Compared to you, I’m very fortunate. My state contributes an additional $216/year to my health care, for a total cost of approx. $1,600/year for just me. Bear in mind, I’ve been to see a physician exactly three times in the 11 years I’ve been teaching, and two of those 3 times were for physicals.
    3. Part of the “benefit” that I receive for being a teacher is my teacher pension plan. However, I contribute 5% of my gross salary toward that teacher pension (which will rise to 7% as of July 1; for no additional benefit – I’ll get to that later), while my state contributes 0%. In my state, teachers are the ONLY contributors to our pensions, which have just been assaulted. The benefit I receive from my employer for my pension is nothing. So, there’s really no benefit; I’m merely part of the system and costing the taxpayer nothing in that regard.

    However, as of July 1, 2011, there will be a $300M cap on the pension fund and any and all surplus will be going toward the state’s budget shortfall. The extra 2% that will be taken from my paycheck (and the paychecks of other teachers in my state) is estimated to generate $3B over the next 12 years above and beyond all contributions into the teacher pension system (including payments out to teachers who are drawing from their pensions). My state just instituted a “teacher tax” to pay for our budget shortfall, since teachers make up the largest portion of public sector employees in my state, and only public sector employees were required to make this contribution.

    I don’t really have any money left over NOW to contribute to a 401K plan, and I am not living a life of luxury, either. The cost of living is high enough in my state that I cannot afford to buy my own home (I rent a one-bedroom apartment) and have less than $200/month of “disposable income”, much of which is used on fuel costs to see my family. Not really living high on the hog here. Sure, I could put that ~$200 into a 401K, but I wouldn’t be able to see my family, nor would I have any money for emergencies (like automotive repairs, for example). Of course, some of that ~$200/month goes back into my classroom each month, but I suppose I could stop supporting my students as well…
    Like Ryan Y, I’m going to break it down for you.

    For 185 (not 170) days of work, I get:
    1. $54,100 in salary (after 11 years of service)
    2. $216 in health care (I contribute over $1400).
    3. 0% employer contribution to my retirement.
    4. 0% state contribution to my retirement (I contribute 5%, 7% as of July 1, 2011).
    5. I contribute 6.2% to Social Security; the state contributes .2%.

    As of right now, I cost my state approximately $325 in benefits alone (I am not counting salary, as the article here demonstrates that we’re about 12% behind the pay of private sector employees). As next school year, I will be costing my state $-757 for my benefits (after the increased 2% contribution with no increase in benefits).

    All in all, my state invests $54,425 in me alone (over the course of 1387.5 working hours per year, not including the work I do at home, which would boost it to 1757.5 over the 185 days I’m paid to work), which works out to: $39.23/hour (or really, $30.97/hour, since I still have to get that extra work [grading/lesson planning] done in my off-time, and I don’t get overtime for it).

    However, since I’m not an hourly employee, the breakdown of numbers isn’t completely relevant. But, just for the sake of argument, let’s look at the equivalent private sector employee’s breakdown of hours…

    365 days, minus two weeks paid vacation, minus weekends, works out to 246 working days. The 12% increase in salary (and I’m including my benefits, not just my base salary) works out to $60,956 (we’ll call it $61,000 for easier numbers). We’ll assume that the private sector employee only works 40 hours a week (because they’d likely be getting some overtime, otherwise), so that’s an “8 hour day” (really, only 7 hours, due to the half hour lunch break and the two mandatory 15-minute breaks).

    $61,000 divided by 246 days (or 1722 working hours per year), would be as follows: $61,000 divided by 1722 = $35.43/hour. Bear in mind, this is only base salary, not including any benefits.

    Teacher: $30.97/hour. Private Sector Employee (PSE): $35.43/hour.

    So far, this year, I’ve taken 1 sick day (subs in our school district get $85/day), so unlike Ryan Y who seems to be claiming that he’s cost his state an additional $1,785 this year, I’ve only cost my state an additional $85. EXCEPT, that since I’m a non-core teacher, my students were spread out among other working teachers and they didn’t assign a substitute for my classroom, so I didn’t end up costing the state anything extra. (Bear in mind, most teachers don’t use all their sick/personal days each year, so that extra $1,785 Ryan Y is trying to sell you on is inaccurate).

    Maybe Ryan Y has it better than most of the rest of us. I don’t really know for sure. However, the fact remains that teachers are underpaid compared to people working in the private sector with equivalent years of experience and an equivalent education.

  • CaliTeach

    Ryan Y speak for your own district not state. In my CA district health care is not provided. So unless you have a spouse with a plan, you’re paying out of pocket.

  • Rhea

    Teachers in the district I work in make on average 62,000 a year for 185 days. They turn in a time card and double dip the state of Minnesota any time they take extra students because a sub is unavailable. They turn in a time card anytime they work a little extra. They are exempt level employees. This does not make any sense to me that they can time card anything. Exempt level employees in the private sector can work a 20 hour day seven days a week and get nothing extra as far as pay. I am a non-exempt employee put in tons of extra time and don’t get paid for it because there is no budget. How does that work?

  • ATiredExPublicTeacher

    Granted, there are many things that public school teachers endure. But let’s not blame the “rich” Republicans alone. Remember, if the Dems really cared about making things easier for educators to do their jobs, then there wouldn’t be any more gimmicks and education mumbo jumbo they have to go through each day. Plus, many of them are a part of this “rich” group that wants to hold on to their money as well. So they slide a piece of legislation here and there. If it’s got so many strings to make a full symphony orchestra, then what is the point? NCLB, Race to the Top, and the whole “Core Curriculum” situation should be abolished at best and rewritten to benefit all parties involved. The state I used to work for required us to not only pay into the state pension program (with little to no contribution on their part), they also came up with like a teacher tax to compensate for the supposed COLA they gave my first year. I get so disgusted when I keep reading how this article slants things towards the liberal agenda. I’m not a Republican fan either, but it sickens me that this union continues to support candidates that appear to have education’s best interest in mind when they just want to line their fat pockets with taxpayer’s money for the rest of their lives. It makes one not even want to be a part of this organization, which I was coerced to be a part of by the union rep (since in this county, the union negotiated all contracts and I would pretty much have been paying the same amount to them whether I was a part of the union or not)…

  • ATiredExPublicTeacher

    And the worst thing arising from this situation is that the children are hurt the most…Those dreaming of changing the world through education get burned out before they even sit down their first coffee mug from their students…Those who’ve been in the game for a while receive pink slips whilst the cry for collaborative working environments and mentoring programs bleed through the systems, varying in effectiveness…

    For those who think teachers get overpaid, a great deal of teachers don’t even live in the areas they teach in…or if they do, it’s not a place where you want to raise a family…

  • Cheryl Gilley

    After 15 years, I finished last year at 43,000. I am a music teacher and have been riffed twice. It took 3 years to find a full-time job the first time; and this time, I was recommended for three different positions, but I was passed up by first year teacher because I was too expensive–experience and master’s. I started teaching after my children were raised and after my daughter died. She required round-the-clock care. I still would like to teach music, but realized I would not find a job. I took my $14,000 a year retirement, and found a job for 120 days at part-time music. The state of Illinois just voted that retired teachers can only teach 100 days a year. (Why? I am not sure.) There goes my dream once again of teaching students music. I believe music can make one smarter in many areas, but, with our economy as it is today, the only children getting music education in some parts of Illinois are only those who can afford private lessons.

  • Tricia

    Obviously every state and district is different. California workers must contribute a little over 8% of their pay into their retirement system and we may not opt out of this. This worries me because I fear the state is going bankrupt and we may lose our pensions including all we invested. As for health care, it varies, but my husband works for a small company and has way better benefits and costs through his employer than I do as a teacher, he also makes double my salary. Our district costs over 1k a month for a family coverage through Kaiser (this is 10K a year). And guess what? My husband has the option of having a high deductible plan and and HSA account. I don’t know if any educators have this option, but I know my district doesn’t. Also, if our school year is shortened next year, we are looking at up to a 10% reduction in pay. By the way, so you have some sense of things, typical 3 bedroom house price around here is 600K at least.


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  • blong

    N.J. Gov. Christie is wiping me out! I had a private sector job for 30 years, and the last year there was making 75,000. When they moved out of state, I took a job at the local community college as a “public employee” making 24,000. I think I already made enough sacrifice. Christie, go find the money in the pockets of the rich, the public sector doesn’t have it, especially your school employess!

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  • Bob-Florida

    I am in my 15th year here in Florida, and I make $41,000. It is getting to the point where I can’t pay my bills

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