One frequent criticism of the U.S. school system, particularly public schools, is that teachers are paid less than people in many other professions. New research shows some teachers cannot make ends meet financially. One in six has to take a second job to balance their personal books.
Pew Research looked at teachers in public elementary and secondary schools. Sixteen percent had to take a second job in the break before the 2015–2016 school year. That is about three times the national average for all jobs. Some of the Pew conclusions were based on reviews of data from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, Pew found that second jobs produced, on average, 7% of teacher income during the summer and 9% during the school year. Teachers with incomes at the low end of the spectrum of pay were the most likely to take second jobs. The authors of the survey wrote, “Certain groups of teachers are more likely than others to work a summer job outside the school system, including those with less teaching experience and who are younger – groups that tend to have lower salaries.” Thirty-two percent of teachers with one year or less of experience took a second job.
The Economic Policy Institute think tank reports that teachers make 19% less than people with similar educations. When benefits are included, the figure is 11%. The authors of the study, EPI Distinguished Fellow Lawrence Mishel and UC Berkeley Economist and EPI Research Associate Sylvia Allegretto, looked at the potential crisis of the pay gap as its effects the ability to build a solid teacher workforce. They were quoted as saying, “Deteriorating teacher pay is not just a fairness issue. Eliminating the teacher pay penalty is crucial to building the teacher workforce we need. In order to recruit and retain talented teachers, school districts need to address the inadequacy of teacher pay.”
These observations support those who believe that many people who could be teachers will pick other professions. Even with the pay gap with other professions, teaching is not among the lowest paying jobs in America, which tend to be among people who are “unskilled.”
The recent wave of teacher strikes that swept the nation last year and since in states like West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma demonstrates that in some states compensation structures and working conditions for teachers are a serious issue — and these are the states where it’s best (and worst) to be a teacher.