Special Report

States With the Most Underpaid Teachers

As the U.S. continues to struggle with the health and economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, school staff and teachers across the country have returned to work. 

Many occupations deemed essential to the economy, or for which remote work is not an easy option, are low-wage jobs. The same appears to be true for teachers, who are paid lower wages compared to non-teacher, college-educated workers, even after controlling for education, experience, and other factors known to affect earnings. 

Public high school teachers in the United States earned approximately 19.2% less than other college-educated workers in 2019, according to the report, “Teacher pay penalty dips but persists in 2019,” published Sept. 17, 2020 by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit think tank. 

With the exception of a period during the 1960s when teachers across the country earned slightly more on average than other college-educated workers, teachers in the United States have consistently earned less than non-teacher college graduates. Since at least 1980, the wage gap between the two worker groups has steadily increased. In 1996, teachers made approximately 6% less than other college-educated workers. Here are the states where teachers are paid the most and least.

On average across the United States, a high school teacher working in a public school earns $65,930 a year. The average occupation in the U.S. that requires at least a college degree pays $92,175 a year — according to government labor force data for May 2019.

School spending per student tends to be higher in states with smaller gaps between teacher and non-teacher pay compared to states with larger gaps. Of the 25 states with the smallest teacher wage penalties, public school spending per student is greater than the national average of $12,612 per student in 13 states. Of the states with the largest teacher wage penalties, public school spending per student is higher than the national average in only four states.

The public education system in the United States lags behind those of many wealthy nations. According to an annual study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. trails 24 other countries — Australia, Canada, China, Germany, Japan, and the U.K. among them — in student performance in core subjects like mathematics, science, and reading. 

Nationwide, only about 33% of public school students about to enter high school are considered proficient in math and 32% proficient in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Here is a list of the school districts where children are least likely to succeed in every state.

Click here to see the states with the most underpaid teachers
Click here to read our methodology

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