The wage gap between teachers and other professionals with similar education and experience reached an all-time high of 17 percent in 2015, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank. In the mid-1990s, the gap was only 1.8 percent.
While there are many reasons teachers stay in the profession or leave it, the report notes that other jobs might become more appealing to both potential and existing teachers as their salaries continue to lag behind.
There are no states where teachers make the same or more than their peers. In New York, teachers are paid about 91.3 percent of what similarly-educated workers earn.
For even the most experienced teachers nationwide, compensation has failed to keep pace with the rest of the job market. In the mid-1990s, senior teachers, ages 45-54, actually led their peers in earnings by 1.9 percent. But by 2015, they trailed by 17.8 percent.
Young teachers, ages 25-34, fare slightly better with a 16.4 percent gap, while teachers ages 35-44 fare the worst, with a 21.7 percent gap.
Unionized teachers are better off than their non-unionized peers, the study found. Those in a collective bargaining agreement have a six percent smaller wage gap than those who are not.
For policymakers, the report reveals a seemingly obvious point: Better pay would be a step toward enlisting more high-quality teachers.
“The discussion about teacher recruitment and retainment can’t overlook what teachers are getting paid,” Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel said. “People are willing to earn less to be a teacher, but it’s a question of how much less.”