America is back to school but teachers aren't

America is back to school but teachers aren't
Empty classroom in an elementary school. Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
  • The September jobs report found a 144,000 decrease in local education employment.
  • The shocking loss could be partially due to failures in accounting for remote and hybrid learning.

The US fell short of job estimates in September, adding just 194,000 payrolls. And teachers were not immune to these disappointing results.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), local government lost 101,000 jobs last month as seen in the below chart. This loss is mainly from education employment. Local government excluding education added 42,500 jobs last month, offset by the 144,200 jobs lost in just local government education. The following chart shows what employment losses and gains looked like in different industries in September:

Not only did local government education shed 144,000 jobs, but 17,000 jobs were lost in state government education and 19,000 in private education.

Job statistics have trouble tracking changes because of the pandemic

The report noted that hiring in the education sector in September was "lower than usual," but this anomaly could be due to the chaos in the education sector caused by the pandemic, like the rise of remote and hybrid learning. Those changes could have thrown off off seasonal adjustment, or the algorithm that BLS uses to adjust for seasonal patterns in hiring and layoffs.

Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, told Insider that he suspects the drop in government jobs is almost entirely due to seasonal adjustment.


"The seasonal adjustment is still expecting a pre-COVID start of the school year jump in employment at schools," Zhao told Insider. "And obviously we shouldn't be expecting that during the pandemic because any schools are running on leaner workforces." Zhao also noted that many reopenings were disrupted by the Delta variant.

The report noted that since February 2020, employment is down by 310,000 in local government education, by 194,000 in state government education, and by 172,000 in private education.

"To some extent, I'm not worried about the September numbers in education, because I think they were driven by the seasonal adjustment," Zhao said. "But it actually is a reminder that job losses in education over the course of the pandemic have been particularly severe. Education is one of the industries that still has the largest shortfall in employment relative to before the pandemic."

When looking at nonseasonally adjusted employment, local government education saw a second consecutive month of job gains, adding 718,300 jobs in September.

Teachers have struggled with low wages and difficult work conditions for years

Although the skewed seasonal adjustment undoubtedly played a role in the decline in teaching jobs, low wages in the sector were an issue pre-pandemic. With health concerns around returning to in-person teaching during the pandemic, the teacher shortage persists.


Betsey Stevenson, a former top economist for President Barack Obama, wrote on Twitter that the "job loss in education and care giving highlights the problems that are holding the United States back and were problems long before the pandemic," referencing the lack of affordable childcare and low wages.

Along with teachers, there have been reports in recent months on shortages for other jobs related to education, like bus drivers and food services workers, that could be contributing to September's data. Insider has reported on the bus-driver shortage, largely caused by drivers unwilling to work for low wages during the pandemic. For example, after Chesterfield County Public Schools in Virginia raised hourly pay by $3 - from $17.21 to $20.21 an hour - it received "hundreds" of bus driver applicants, CCPS Director of Transportation Dr. J. Calvin Frye said.

Nick Bunker, economic research director at Indeed, called the latest report "deflating." Bunker told Insider that there are two factors to the employment figures seen in local education last month.

"I do think there's some Delta, coronavirus-specific factors, but also it could be just that schools are going to have a harder time hiring some of those support positions now than they have in the past," Bunker said.

For instance, Bunker said people who are looking for a bus driver position may consider a job outside of schools given the competition and other options for drivers right now.


Teachers make around 20% less than others with college degrees, per reporting from CNBC. Insider previously spoke to three teachers who quit their jobs during the pandemic, who cited low pay, stress, and lack of respect as main factors behind their job switches.

"The extra money is nice, but it's really more about being respected as a professional," one teacher said, adding that "teachers are not respected as professionals who are experts at their jobs."