Think US Teachers Are Overpaid? Try Underpaid

American teachers' pay ranks 24th in the world

Elementary teacher writing arithmetic on blackboard, rear view
A common complaint about teachers in the U.S. is that they have it easy because they work only nine months a year and take home fat salaries. There's just one problem with the criticism: It's wrong.

First, forget the time off myth. Teachers tend to either participate in career development or take on an extra job during the summer. Why more work? That gets to the second part. When compared to much of the developed world, American teachers are underpaid. When viewed in the context of American wages, teachers do well, though by no means have a cushy right. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median weekly earning for people 16 years of age and older is $776, which is $40,372 a year. The median annual pay for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $53,090. The median for high school teacher annual pay is $55,050.

But teachers have a minimum educational requirement of a bachelor's degree, and many teachers also have master's degrees. That changes things. According to the BLS, the median weekly pay for people who hold at least a bachelor's degree is $1,219, or $63,388 a year. That means teachers are 16 percent behind people in general with a bachelor's degree or higher.

According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), American teachers also lag teachers from other countries when compared to private sector employees with comparative amounts of education, as reported by The average ratio for all countries measured by the OECD is 0.89, which means that a teacher on the average makes only 89 percent of what someone in the private sector with a similar education makes.

At the top of the list are Spain (1.4), Korea (1.34), Luxembourg (1.24), Portugal (1.17), and Flemish Belgium (1.17). In these countries, teachers make more than comparatively educated workers in the public sector. The same is true, to a lesser degree, for Finland, Denmark, Germany, French Belgium, New Zealand, and Canada.

After that point, teachers make less than those in the private sector. Israel, England, and Australia are all above the 90 percent mark. But the U.S.? It's twenty-fourth on the list at 0.7. That is lower than the BLS comparison, which would have been 0.84, but the difference could be between comparing median scores, which are the middle value in a range, and average scores.

Below the US? Hungary, Italy, Austria, Estonia, Iceland, the Czech Republic, and the Slovak Republic.

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The problem here is that most teachers are female. I am looking at a 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows that the median weekly salary for all women with graduate degrees (that includes the Ph.D., M.D. and J.D.) is $1,130. That amounts to $59,000 a year. As you state above, the median high school teacher makes $55,000 a year, which is quite on par with the average female professional. If they were to teach summer school and work twelve months a year like everyone else, they could probably exceed the median salary for female professionals. Finally, you have to take into account the very generous fringe benefits for teachers relative to what you would get in the private sector. Put all of these things together and you see that teachers are not at all underpaid relative to the average FEMALE professional. In other words, it is not a bad economic choice for a woman.

March 23 2015 at 2:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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