Teachers in 2021 earned 23.5% less than comparable college graduates, a new record, according to new data.
The Economic Policy Institute, or EPI, has been tracking teacher wage trends over the past 18 years, and its analysis of 2021 data concludes that teacher pay has remained relatively flat since 1996. Moreover, teachers make considerably less than peers working in other industries.
The report released this month further adds to conversations surrounding teacher pay and overall classroom funding. Just this week, educators in the largest school district in Ohio went on strike over disagreements about pay and learning conditions.
The EPI data, pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, shows that the average weekly wages of public school teachers was $1,348 in 2021, slightly higher than $1,319 in 1996. By comparison, other college graduates brought in, on average, $2,009 a week in 2021.
The report’s author, Sylvia Allegretto, wrote that the disparity highlights the stagnation of teacher pay over the last quarter-century.
“The wages of nonteacher college graduates jumped by 13.5% from 1996 to 2002 during an unusual time of exceptional wage growth among low-, middle-, and high-wage earners,” Allegretto said. “But inflation-adjusted wages of teachers did not grow strongly during this period, in part because teacher pay is often set by long-term contracts, and public-sector wages are not as volatile as private-sector wages.”
The Institute also analyzed what it calls a teacher “wage penalty,” which measures how much less teachers are paid relative to other college graduates. In 2021, the penalty hit a record-high 23.5%, meaning that on average, teachers earned 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with other college grads working in other professions.
“Generally, the teacher wage penalty has been on a worsening trajectory since the mid-1990s,” Allegretto wrote.
In 1979, women teachers actually earned a “premium,” making on average 6.5% more in weekly wages than their nonteacher peers. The wage penalty is worst among men, who made 35% less than their nonteacher peers in 2021.
The disparities exists nationwide. A teacher wage penalty is present in each state, with the largest gap in Colorado, where teachers make 35.9% less than nonteachers. The smallest wage penalty is in Rhode Island at 3.4%.
“The picture that continues to emerge is one of a long-steep relative erosion of teacher wages,” Allegretto wrote. “Among those students who would like to dedicate their careers to teaching, many are undoubtedly choosing to forgo a public school teaching career in lieu of a better-paying career choice.”