Educators held a rally in April in Portland to press Oregon lawmakers for more school funding. (Mark Graves/The Oregonian via AP)

Why is it so hard for schools to keep teachers?

Here’s the short, graphic version, from the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington that works to broaden the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income workers.


(Economic Policy Institute) (The Washington Post/Economic Policy Institute)

The graphic is part of a new EPI report looking at the growing teacher shortage, a result of low pay, little respect for the profession and insufficient funding for schools.

Another new report by the institute focused on teacher pay. It shows that the teacher “teacher pay penalty” — the difference between what teachers and comparably educated workers earn — hit a record high in 2018. Here’s some of what the report’s authors found:

  • Average weekly wages of public school teachers (adjusted for inflation) decreased $21 from 1996 to 2018, from $1,216 to $1,195 (in 2018 dollars). In contrast, weekly wages of other college graduates rose by $323, from $1,454 to $1,777, over this period.
  • For all public-sector teachers, the relative wage penalty (controlling for education, experience and other factors known to affect earnings) has grown substantially since the mid-1990s. The teacher weekly wage penalty was 5.3 percent in 1993, grew to 12 percent in 2004 and reached a record 21.4 percent in 2018.
  • The wage premium that female teachers enjoyed in the 1960s and 1970s has long been erased, replaced by a growing wage penalty. Previous research found that in 1960, women teachers earned 14.7 percent more in weekly wages than comparable female workers. But the teacher weekly wage premium for female teachers had fallen to 6.9 percent by 1979 and faded over the 1980s and 1990s. It was replaced by a large and growing wage penalty. In 2018, they were making 15.1 percent less in wages than comparable female workers.
  • The wage penalty for male teachers is much larger. The weekly wage penalty was 17.8 percent in 1979; it improved to 14.2 percent in 1993 but then worsened. In 2018, males teaching in public school were making 31.5 percent less in wages than comparable men in other professions.
  • Teacher weekly wage penalties vary throughout the nation. Four of the seven states with the largest teacher wage penalties — Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina and Oklahoma — were, unsurprisingly, where teachers protested in 2018, helping draw national attention to the erosion of teacher pay. In these states, teachers earned at least 26 percent less than comparable college graduates.
  • In 21 states and D.C., the teacher wage penalties are greater than 20 percent.