Last week the Economic Policy Institute released its annual analysis of teacher pay as compared to other professions with similar levels of education and found that the teaching pay penalty is continuing to grow.
Using the most recent data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the report analyzes salaries for college graduates from 1979 through 2022 (adjusted for inflation). The report looks at trends in average weekly wages for teachers and other professions, noting that although teachers’ wages (for all teachers) have always been lower, the gap started expanding in 1996, growing from an average of -5.1% compared to other professions to -26.4% in 2022.
The sharpest drop was between 2021 and 2022 in large part due to inflation. While wages for other professions largely kept pace with inflation, salaries for teachers did not.
Over the period studied, the teaching penalty has always been larger for men than women. Until 1998, women’s salaries were on par with comparable college graduates. At the same time, the teaching penalty for male teachers was -15.1%, helping to explain why teaching was a less viable professional choice for men than women. Since then, the gap has grown steadily for all teachers and now stands at -21.3% for women and -36.6% for men.
According to the report’s authors, “The enormous teaching penalty for men that persists today goes a long way in explaining why men who may want to choose teaching as a career may not be able to afford to do so. The large and worsening teacher pay penalty for men is one of the reasons why approximately three in four teachers are women, which is largely unchanged since 1960.”
In North Carolina, the teaching pay penalty is -26.1%, but educators don’t have to travel very far to find better conditions. Just across the border in South Carolina, the teaching pay penalty is just -8.9% making teaching a much more attractive profession from a financial standpoint.
And in South Carolina, teachers start their careers making much more than our teachers. The beginning teacher’s minimum base salary is $42,500, with a $5,000/year bump (to $47,576/year) for a master’s degree and a $12,000/year bump (to $54,576/year) for a doctoral degree.
In comparison, North Carolina’s base pay for beginning teachers is currently (with the new budget increase) a whopping $39,000/year with NO increases for master’s or doctoral degrees received after 2014 (when the General Assembly eliminated them).
In the 2023-24 school year, a teacher in South Carolina with 23 years of experience and a doctoral degree is earning a minimum of $75,493. In North Carolina, a teacher with the same experience and degree is making $53,060 (see the budget salary schedule on p. 142).
How will North Carolina compete for quality educators? Why didn’t our General Assembly consider the state’s educational future more carefully when coming up with the measly NC teacher salary increases that just passed into law?
As the report states, “One of our nation’s highest ideals is the promise to educate every child without regard to means. In many respects, we have always fallen short on that promise. And there are many issues to be addressed around public education and its funding (Allegretto, García, and Weiss 2022). But one thing is for sure. A world-class public educational system cannot be accomplished without the best and the brightest heading our classrooms. And it cannot be done on the cheap.”
Please contact your legislators to let them know North Carolina must do more for our teachers if we expect to have an educational future. Send an email here.