How teacher pay compares to similar workers’ wages

Despite better benefits packages, teachers' compensation remains about 10% lower
By: | September 17, 2020
Teacher pay gaps with similar workers have "contributed to an inadequate supply of effective teachers at every stage of the career ladder," researchers say in a new report. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)Teacher pay gaps with similar workers have "contributed to an inadequate supply of effective teachers at every stage of the career ladder," researchers say in a new report. (GettyImages/Phynart Studio)

Teachers’ wages continue to lag about 20% behind the earnings of comparable workers, according to new research.

Even with the better benefits packages teacher often receive, their compensation remains about 10% lower than comparable workers, the Economic Policy Institute report found.

The gap, which the researchers call the “teacher pay penalty,” has also grown over the last two decades.

When adjusted for education, experience, and demographic factors, teachers’ weekly wages were 6% less than comparable workers in 1997. By 2019, the penalty has grown to 19.2%, which, was an improvement over the 22% gap seen in 2018.


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“Teachers deserve to be paid fairly, particularly during a pandemic when teachers have had to adapt to new and difficult environments,” said Lawrence Mishel, an Economic Policy Institute distinguished fellow and co-author of the report. “Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need during the pandemic and recruiting new teachers during the recovery.”

The wage gap has “has contributed to an inadequate supply of effective teachers at every stage of the career ladder,” the researchers wrote.

And along with larger class sizes and standardized testing pressures, the disparity has impacted the retention of mid-career teachers.

The researchers believe teacher strikes in California, Arizona, West Virginia, Colorado, and other states in 2018 and 2019 may have been factors in the increase in wages last year.

“As we recover from the economic shockwave of the coronavirus pandemic, federal aid is critically needed to ensure that state and local governments do not pursue austerity measures,” said co0-author Sylvia Allegretto, an economist at UC Berkeley. “Funding education should be a key priority for policymakers’, and closing the teacher pay gap to attract and retain teachers is a crucial part of that.”


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The report also found:

  • The wage penalty “has grown remarkably among women.” In 1960, female teachers earned 14.7% more than comparable female workers. In 2019, female teachers had fallen behind by 13.2%.
  • The gap for male teachers was 22% in 1979; improved to 15% in the mid-1990s, but worsened in the late 1990s into the early 2000s and now stands at 30%.
  • The report details gaps for each state from 2014–19. The top five are: Virginia (32.7%), Arizona (31.8%), New Mexico (29.5%), Oklahoma (29.0%) and Colorado (28.8%).

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