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The pay penalty for becoming a teacher is worse than ever

Madison Hoff   

The pay penalty for becoming a teacher is worse than ever
  • A recent report highlighted the pay penalty between teachers and college graduates in other roles.
  • The author found this pay penalty was at a record in 2022 when controlling for education and other factors.

Teachers have historically faced lower pay than other workers, and the gap got even worse in 2022, a recent report indicated.

Sylvia Allegretto, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research and a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, wrote a report that looked into how the pay of public school teachers looks compared to college graduates working elsewhere.

The analysis, based on the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey, included people working at least 35 hours a week, who have at least a bachelor's, and were between 18 and 64 years old.

"This gap in pay—which is adjusted for education, experience, and demographic characteristics —has been worsening over time," stated a press release about the results in the recent report.

In 2022, the most recent year in the analysis, teachers were paid 26.4% less than demographically-similar college educated workers in other fields in 2022, which is a record large gap.

There's also a total compensation penalty for teachers when factoring in benefits like healthcare and retirement plans.

"Teachers generally receive a higher share of their total compensation as benefits than other professionals do, partially offsetting the weekly wage penalty," the author wrote.

Before the pandemic, the total compensation penalty was 10.2% in 2019 — with a benefits advantage of 9.0% and a wage penalty of 19.2%. The compensation penalty was 14.2% in 2021 and 17.0% in 2022.

"I believe educators need to be paid like the professionals that they are," Alana Ward, a teacher that retired in 2021, told NPR's Michel Martin. "COVID actually highlighted the importance of public education and the importance of teachers. But we're not putting our money where our mouth is."

At the same time teachers face a pay penalty, many use what they make to buy supplies and other items for their classrooms.

Compensation is just one issue, per Allegretto.

"Not only are levels of compensation low, but teaching is becoming increasingly stressful as teachers are forced to navigate battles over curriculum and COVID-19 related mandates as well as rising incidence of violence in schools," Allegretto wrote.

Compensation and well-being could be two reasons teachers debate quitting. A McKinsey survey of over 1,800 educators during 2022 found that for those in the survey who plan to leave, 31% noted well-being as a factor. Almost half of those who said they planned to leave noted compensation as a factor.

Mahala Kuehne is a former teacher who said in an-told-to essay for Insider she made around $55,000 by her fifth year and that "the work really requires like a 9- or 10-hour workday."

"I often worked early, and I started feeling resentful that I wasn't being paid for that extra work," Kuehne said.

"There's this unspoken rule that you shouldn't complain because it's a passion-based job; you're not supposed to care about the money," Kuehne added. "But ultimately, I should care about the money; this is a job. I won't be a martyr for my 9-to-5."

Do you think you are being underpaid as a teacher? Are you a former teacher who quit? Reach out to this reporter at