This comparison has been made before in different ways, but we figured it was worth checking.
The most recent government data on teacher employment covers the 2011-2012 school year. The Education Department's tallies of all teachers in elementary and secondary schools nationwide found that they made about $56,600 that year. But kindergarten teachers are a different group. For that, we turn to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2012, the nation had about 158,000 kindergarten teachers, excluding whose who work in special education. The average salary was $53,480.
So. What about the other end of the spectrum? An annual ranking of top hedge fund managers found that the 25 most successful pulled in $11.62 billion in 2014. ("Last year turned out to be the worst one for this elite group of investors since the stock market meltdown of 2008," Institutional Investors' Stephen Taub writes, adding, "How bad was it?" apparently without irony.)
In other words, those 25 men -- yes, they were all men -- made about $464 million apiece, just a bit more than the teachers' $53,000. To put it visually:
Even leaving out some kindergarten teachers, and even with some slight uptick in those teachers' salaries, the 25 hedge fund managers are doing much, much better -- "horrible year" aside.
If you're curious, those investors make far less cumulatively than high school teachers. All 1.5 million high school teachers nationally earned about $87 billion in 2012 with a median salary of $56,643.
Obama's point, incidentally, was not overt class hostility toward the hedge funders. Instead, he wants to tax carried interest more. This will not, we estimate, make hedge fund compensation equivalent to that of a teacher.
Correction: This post originally had an extra zero on the cumulative salaries of high school teachers. It's $87 billion, not $870 billion.