Where Teacher Salaries Most Lag Behind Private Sector

States where teachers are protesting have among the largest pay discrepancies when compared with similarly educated private-sector workers.
by | April 30, 2018
Last week, thousands of Arizona teachers marched to the state Capitol demanding higher teacher pay and school funding. (AP/Ross D. Franklin)

Teachers in Arizona and Colorado walked out of classrooms and held rallies last week demanding pay raises and additional money for schools they contend are woefully underfunded. The protests were just the latest in a wave of demonstrations that have swept across several states. Educators in Kentucky, Oklahoma and West Virginia have also walked out, calling on lawmakers to raise wages that have remained mostly flat for years.

In most cases, school funding still hasn't recovered from cuts sustained in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and where there have been teacher pay increases, wages haven’t kept up with inflation. Meanwhile, the private-sector economy has gained momentum with stronger growth recently.

Given all the funding debates now underway, it’s worth considering how teacher salaries compare with their state’s private-sector workforce and how the two have or haven’t grown over time.

We’ve computed several different measures from Census survey data and found that pay gaps for the two sets of workers are far larger in some states than others. As one might expect, data shows particularly large pay discrepancies exist in states where teachers have staged protests. Most states rely, at least in part, on private-sector employee income taxes to fund education, so states with more high-wage workers generally have a larger source of potential revenue to draw from.

The National Education Association (NEA) estimated the national average salary for elementary and secondary school teachers was $58,479 in 2016. Averages topped $75,000 in the highest paying states of California, Massachusetts and New York. By comparison, South Dakota and Mississippi reported salaries that were more than $30,000 less, which is primarily attributable to vast differences in the cost of living.

When NEA’s salary estimates are compared against Census data for all full-time private-sector workers, national averages for the two are nearly identical. But that's not the case everywhere. Virginia teachers' average wages were 79 percent of their private-sector counterparts in 2016, the lowest percentage nationally. Perhaps not surprisingly, Arizona and Colorado were also among the bottom five states for teacher pay relative to private industry salaries.

 

State NEA Average Teacher Salary Average Full-time Private Sector Salary 2016 Teacher Salary %
Virginia $49,690 $62,830 79%
Washington $53,701 $66,972 80%
Colorado $51,233 $61,403 83%
District of Columbia $73,991 $85,553 86%
Arizona $47,218 $54,431 87%
Utah $46,887 $53,946 87%
Oklahoma $45,276 $51,959 87%
South Dakota $42,025 $47,243 89%
North Carolina $47,941 $53,789 89%
Missouri $47,959 $53,271 90%
Kansas $47,755 $52,976 90%
Texas $51,890 $57,560 90%
Minnesota $56,913 $62,313 91%
Florida $46,612 $50,557 92%
New Hampshire $56,616 $60,633 93%
Louisiana $49,745 $52,972 94%
New Mexico $47,163 $50,212 94%
West Virginia $45,622 $48,553 94%
Georgia $54,190 $57,078 95%
North Dakota $51,223 $53,697 95%
Mississippi $42,744 $44,260 97%
Tennessee $48,817 $50,173 97%
Connecticut $72,013 $73,416 98%
South Carolina $48,769 $49,549 98%
Delaware $59,960 $60,884 98%
Idaho $46,122 $46,802 99%
Nebraska $51,386 $51,977 99%
Alabama $48,518 $48,924 99%
Illinois $63,475 $63,997 99%
New Jersey $69,330 $69,760 99%
Maine $50,498 $50,785 99%
Wisconsin $54,115 $54,104 100%
U.S. Total $58,479 $58,111 101%
Arkansas $48,218 $47,617 101%
Indiana $53,645 $52,275 103%
Maryland $66,456 $64,719 103%
Massachusetts $76,522 $74,404 103%
Ohio $56,441 $54,664 103%
Kentucky $52,134 $50,358 104%
Vermont $55,726 $53,685 104%
Iowa $54,386 $51,890 105%
Wyoming $58,140 $55,390 105%
Hawaii $56,049 $52,294 107%
New York $79,152 $73,653 107%
Montana $51,034 $47,202 108%
Oregon $60,395 $55,464 109%
Rhode Island $66,197 $60,286 110%
Michigan $61,875 $56,310 110%
Alaska $67,443 $60,363 112%
Nevada $56,943 $50,541 113%
Pennsylvania $65,151 $57,812 113%
California $77,179 $66,174 117%
Figures represent averages for 2016. See table 1 note for more information. SOURCE: Governing calculations of NEA, U.S. Census Bureau 2016 5-year ACS microdata
 

However, these numbers don’t account for the fact that younger, low-wage workers drive down overall averages for the private sector and that teachers tend to have attained higher levels of education. For a more meaningful comparison, we calculated median salary estimates using microdata from the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey for employees who worked at least 35 hours a week, attended a minimum of four years of college and were age 25 or older.

Nationally, elementary and secondary education employees’ median wages were 75 percent of private-sector workers in 2016 when these same criteria are applied to both groups. (When average wages, rather than median pay, are compared for both groups, pay disparities widen significantly. By our calculations, college-educated teachers age 25 and older earned an average of 61 percent of that of private-sector employees nationally in 2016.)

It's important to note that differences in pay between similarly educated teachers and private-sector workers don’t represent precisely how much teachers are under or over paid. Additional skillsets, benefits packages and other factors account for salary differences as well. The presence of high-paying industries further varies from state to state; larger concentrations of such jobs would expect to yield bigger gaps within a state.

Comparing the pay discrepancies across state lines, though, does show where teacher wages most lag behind the private sector as a whole. It’s in most of these same states where teachers have held demonstrations calling for pay raises. Others with similar pay differences could be prime for future teacher protests.

 
 

Take Arizona, where teachers' 2016 median wages were about 63 percent of their full-time, college-educated private-sector counterparts, the largest pay gap of any state. The difference is nearly the same in North Carolina, where the state teachers union is planning a major rally at the state Capitol next month. Other states with particularly large pay discrepancies include Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas and Virginia.

 
State Elementary & Secondary Education Teacher Occupations Only Private Sector
Vermont $55,641 $53,731 $55,404
Nevada $53,731 $53,731 $56,672
Alaska $66,000 $65,821 $71,084
Illinois $58,000 $57,000 $73,175
New York $70,966 $70,885 $78,402
Maine $48,000 $49,000 $56,000
Nebraska $50,632 $50,690 $59,000
Ohio $58,540 $57,702 $65,945
Iowa $51,520 $51,520 $60,000
Delaware $60,758 $60,000 $75,000
Pennsylvania $60,793 $60,758 $67,948
Kansas $46,900 $47,594 $62,722
New Jersey $65,821 $63,796 $81,538
Connecticut $70,000 $70,000 $82,431
District of Columbia $67,000 $62,722 $88,201
Maryland $63,884 $62,722 $76,960
Texas $50,690 $50,489 $74,188
Rhode Island $72,994 $72,127 $70,966
Tennessee $45,000 $45,216 $60,758
Massachusetts $65,945 $65,858 $82,431
Mississippi $41,216 $40,552 $52,268
California $70,000 $68,994 $82,431
South Dakota $40,552 $40,552 $48,607
Louisiana $46,368 $45,996 $60,758
Minnesota $56,773 $58,540 $72,000
Missouri $45,000 $45,000 $63,869
New Mexico $47,041 $47,000 $62,722
Alabama $49,000 $49,459 $62,722
Wisconsin $53,000 $54,359 $63,869
New Hampshire $52,657 $51,644 $72,000
North Dakota $45,621 $46,368 $53,670
Virginia $50,632 $50,632 $78,402
Colorado $48,662 $48,607 $70,966
Washington $60,000 $59,000 $81,104
Kentucky $50,690 $50,632 $60,828
 U.S. Total $52,657 $52,268 $70,067
Michigan $62,000 $62,000 $70,000
South Carolina $46,368 $46,581 $60,000
Montana $47,041 $47,594 $52,268
Indiana $50,690 $50,690 $61,823
West Virginia $45,000 $44,950 $56,000
Oregon $54,359 $54,745 $67,948
Arkansas $46,635 $46,368 $60,828
Oklahoma $40,505 $40,552 $60,631
Florida $45,062 $45,000 $59,586
Utah $49,000 $48,662 $67,000
Arizona $42,580 $42,964 $68,006
Georgia $50,632 $50,177 $70,000
Hawaii $51,520 $51,520 $56,672
Idaho $45,000 $45,621 $60,828
North Carolina $41,814 $42,073 $65,897
Wyoming $58,800 $58,540 $60,828
Figures represent median salaries of full-time workers for 2016. See table 2 note for more information. SOURCE: Governing calculations U.S. Census Bureau 2016 5-year ACS microdata
 

Finally, comparing wage growth over time for both sets of workers shows where teacher pay is falling further behind.

Using the same age and education criteria, median U.S. elementary and secondary employee salaries rose 5.3 percent between 2010 and 2016. For private-sector workers, wages climbed 8 percent. But median pay for both groups declined over the six-year period when adjusted for inflation.

Private-sector wage gains most outpaced school employee pay in Wyoming, which was benefitting from a booming energy sector during that time period. Other states with little teacher wage growth relative to the private sector included Hawaii, Idaho and North Carolina.

Educator pay increases exceeded the private sector in about half of states since 2010. States like Nevada and Vermont experienced stagnant private industry wages. A few others, particularly Alaska and Nebraska, saw their school employees receive significant pay raises over the time period.

 
State Education Employee Salary Change Private Employee Salary Change 2010-2016 Difference
Vermont 12.8% -0.5% -13.3
Nevada 10.1% 1.4% -8.8
Alaska 17.3% 10.8% -6.5
Illinois 11.5% 5.7% -5.8
New York 12.5% 8.2% -4.3
Maine 10.2% 6.0% -4.3
Nebraska 15.8% 11.6% -4.2
Ohio 8.2% 4.5% -3.7
Iowa 14.5% 10.9% -3.5
Delaware 5.0% 1.9% -3.2
Pennsylvania 10.8% 7.7% -3.1
Kansas 8.4% 5.4% -3.0
New Jersey 9.7% 7.3% -2.4
Connecticut 9.3% 7.1% -2.3
District of Columbia 6.8% 4.8% -2.0
Maryland 8.8% 6.9% -1.9
Texas 9.0% 7.3% -1.6
Rhode Island 10.5% 9.2% -1.3
Tennessee 4.7% 3.4% -1.2
Massachusetts 9.9% 8.9% -1.0
Mississippi 1.7% 0.8% -0.9
California 9.7% 8.9% -0.8
South Dakota 7.8% 7.0% -0.8
Louisiana 7.2% 6.7% -0.4
Minnesota 9.2% 9.4% 0.2
Missouri 4.9% 5.1% 0.2
New Mexico 4.5% 5.0% 0.4
Alabama 5.9% 6.5% 0.6
Wisconsin 4.3% 5.1% 0.8
New Hampshire 8.3% 9.4% 1.1
North Dakota 12.2% 13.4% 1.2
Virginia 5.5% 7.1% 1.7
Colorado 5.8% 7.8% 2.0
Washington 9.7% 11.8% 2.1
Kentucky 7.1% 9.2% 2.1
 U.S. Total 5.3% 8.0% 2.7
Michigan 1.6% 4.5% 2.8
South Carolina 3.7% 6.7% 3.0
Montana 11.8% 15.1% 3.2
Indiana 0.1% 3.5% 3.4
West Virginia 7.0% 10.6% 3.6
Oregon 7.7% 11.4% 3.7
Arkansas 6.7% 10.8% 4.1
Oklahoma 4.1% 8.8% 4.8
Florida 2.0% 7.0% 5.0
Utah 3.5% 9.9% 6.3
Arizona -1.6% 4.8% 6.4
Georgia 1.3% 7.7% 6.4
Hawaii 3.4% 10.0% 6.5
Idaho 0.6% 8.8% 8.2
North Carolina -0.4% 8.1% 8.5
Wyoming 13.1% 21.7% 8.6
Figures represent changes in median salaries between 2010 and 2016 not adjusted for inflation. See table 3 note for more information. SOURCE: Governing analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2016 and 2010 5-year ACS microdata
 

Over the long term, however, the national decline in teacher wages relative to the private sector is much more pronounced. An Economic Policy Institute report compared wages of teachers to a narrow group of occupations with similar skill requirements, finding teachers’ wages deteriorated about 15 percent since 1993 relative to similar professions.

Along with state funding, financial conditions of localities also explain why teachers in some states have enjoyed bigger pay increases than others. At the local level, property taxes typically serve as the primary source for school district funding. Accordingly, teachers in some states hard hit in the housing market collapse haven’t seen wage increases, particularly Arizona and Florida.

 

Data Notes

Table 1: Average teacher salaries for 2016 were estimated by the National Education Association. Private sector wages are averages for all private sector workers who reported earnings of at least $10,000 and usually worked at least 35 hours per week. These estimates were computed from 2016 five-year American Community Survey microdata obtained from IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota.

Map/Table 2: Figures represent estimated median salaries and wages for workers meeting the following criteria: age 25 and older, attended at least four years or college, usually worked at least 35 hours per week and reported earnings of at least $10,000 (to exclude underreported and misreported data and temporary workers.) Private sector estimates exclude self-employed workers. Education salaries represent state and local public employees classified as working in the "elementary-secondary schools" industry. Teacher occupation estimates listed separately in the table refer to public employees classified as one of the following occupations (regardless of industry): postsecondary teachers, preschool and kindergarten teachers, elementary and middle school teachers, secondary school teachers, special education teachers, other teachers and instructors and teacher assistants. Estimates for teacher occupations mostly mirror that of elementary-secondary education industry employees. All estimates were computed from 2016 five-year American Community Survey microdata obtained from IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota.

Table 3: Changes in median salaries and wages between 2010 and 2016 were computed for workers meeting the following criteria: age 25 and older, attended at least four years or college, usually worked at least 35 hours per week and reported earnings of at least $10,000 (to exclude underreported/misreported data and temporary workers.) Private sector estimates exclude self-employed workers. Education salaries represent state and local public employees classified as working in the "elementary-secondary schools" industry. Estimates shown were computed from 2010 and 2016 five-year American Community Survey microdata obtained from IPUMS-USA, University of Minnesota.