Teachers in West Virginia have been on strike for more than a week, closing schools in the state as they push for better benefits and higher wages.
“As a West Virginia teacher — and I’ve been teaching 10 years — I only clear right under $1,300 every two weeks, and they’re wanting to take $300 more away from me” for health care, high school teacher Katie Endicott told the New York Times. “But they tell me it’s okay, because we’re going to give you a 1 percent pay raise. That equals out to 88 cents every two days.”
West Virginia high school teachers made an average of $45,240 a year in 2016, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That is the 47th-lowest salary in the 50 states and the District of Columbia, better only than Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Elementary and middle school teachers do slightly better — they’re only 46th lowest.
“I was born in Maryland. And if I lived in my little, dinky town of Cumberland, Md., I would be making $20,000 more,” middle-school librarian Kathy Cole told CNN.
Of course, the cost of living in Maryland is higher than in West Virginia. Cole noted that Cumberland is right across the river from West Virginia, but there’s a big difference in costs between the two locations. According to ApartmentList.com, rent for a two-bedroom apartment in West Virginia is half that of Maryland, and the median income in the latter state is $33,000 higher.
Curious about how teacher incomes compared nationally, we pulled data for each state, comparing incomes for elementary, middle and high schools to median incomes and apartment rents in each state. Relative to costs in the state, teachers in West Virginia are doing better than teachers in many other states. The average monthly income for an elementary school teacher in the state can pay for 5.2 months of the average rent, much better than the 3.6 months a month’s salary in New Hampshire covers.
But they’re also doing much worse than others. A high school teacher in West Virginia makes 6.1 percent more than the median income in the state, compared with high school teachers in New York, who make, on average, 34.1 percent more than that state’s median income.
These figures are averages, and doing better than New Hampshire does not mean much for Katie Endicott as she tries to pay rising health-care costs. In an effort to settle the strike, Gov. Jim Justice (R) pledged to set up a task force to address health-care costs and a 5 percent pay raise, but that move faces opposition in the legislature.
So for now, the strike continues.