Are teachers paid too little or too much?

A lot of discussion over teachers, teachers unions, teachers pensions, etc. is currently going on and I don’t see any sign of it stopping in the distant future. All of these questions mainly revolve around two ideas: teachers are underpaid and thus we should subsidize their pay through better retirement packages, increase their salaries, and guarantee employment through tenure. If teachers are paid less, then it makes sense for them to have a more subsidized retirement. However, if they’re overpaid, it not only lessens the argument for a government pension at all, but it inflates the pension as a calculation of that salary. Further, if teacher salary has been inflated for some time, then it makes sense for the government to renegotiate even current pensions to bring those costs back in line.

So here is some information about teacher pay.

One thing to keep in mind when discussing pay for teachers, is the average teacher only works 181 days per year, but reports that during the school year, they work an average of 58 hours per week (about nine hours more than the average American salaried worker), so in the end, a teacher works about the same amount as an average salaried worker in the US in any given year. 

Because salaries change from one state to the next, I’ll be using Illinois’ teacher’s salaries as a state’s example,¬†specifically because Illinois recently tried to renegotiate teachers’ pensions¬†and t
he starting salary for an Illinois teacher is $37k, which is roughly the national average of the country and about 15th by state (New Jersey is the highest at $48k). This currently ranks the Illinois and the US about 8th in the world (Luxembourg is #1 with $70k); however the national average for someone with a bachelor’s degree is $45k, so the average Illinois teacher at the beginning is paid less than if they went into a different field (obviously this isn’t true across the board, as someone with an English degree has much less potential earning power than someone with an engineering degree, so if teachers are mainly comprised of lower paying degrees, this could be brought back into perspective).

But with pensions, we’re talking about lifetime earning while working, so let’s look at those numbers. The average American with a bachelor’s degree will work approximately 40 years before being able to retire, and over that lifetime will make approximately $2.4M, which averaged out is about $60k/year. The average teacher in Illinois makes $59,679 (which would put them 12th in the US, and 5th against all other countries in the world, ahead of Canada, South Korea, the rest of the US by about $10k, and Japan).

One factor that should be noted, is that I’ve used average bachelor’s degree worker wages for the US because I couldn’t find it just for Illinois, but that Illinois on average pays about $1k more than the US average, so over a 40 year time period that’s ~$40k more, but previously when I mentioned the average Illinois teacher working about the same as the average American, they do in fact work about 40 hours less per year, which totals about $1,111, so it’s effectively a wash.

So, from all of these statistics we can conclude that Illinois teachers on average are paid neither more nor less, but are paid almost identical to other full-time bachelor’s degree educated workers in the US. From this, I believe it is reasonable to argue that Illinois teachers ought not be given special consideration over other Illinois workers with regards to pension.

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