Analysis Shows That Teacher Salary Has Been Stagnant Since The 1990s

Recent reports indicate that in 2021, the pay gap between teachers and similarly educated college graduates reached a historic low of 23.5 percent.

The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) (“The Teacher Pay Penalty Has Hit a New High: Trends in Teacher Wages and Compensation through 2021”) has tracked the growth or decline of teachers’ incomes during the last 18 years. According to EPI’s analysis of salary data from 2021, the average salary for teachers has not increased much since 1996. Teachers’ incomes also fall well short of the average for those with similar levels of education and experience in other fields. This month’s study adds to the continuing discussion over how to best compensate educators and provide enough financing for schools. Teachers in Ohio’s biggest school system went on strike last week over wages and working conditions. As reported by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which relies on statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2021, public school teachers earned an average of $1,348 per week, a little rise from the average weekly income of $1,319 in 1996. In contrast, the average weekly wage for other types of college graduates in 2021 was $2,009.

The report’s author, Sylvia Allegretto, said that the discrepancy shows how little teacher compensation has changed in the past quarter of a century. From 1996 to 2002, “the incomes of nonteacher college graduates soared by 13.5 percent,” as stated by Allegretto. This occurred during a period of outstanding pay growth across all income brackets. However, even taking inflation into account, teacher pay has not increased considerably over the last several decades. This is due in part to the fact that salaries in the public sector, including those of teachers, tend to be set by long-term contracts and are less likely to fluctuate wildly than those in the private sector. The Institute has also investigated what it calls the “wage penalty” for teachers. The gap between what teachers make and what other college grads make is shown here. In 2021, the penalty hit an all-time high of 23.5 percent, which meant that teachers earned, on average, 76.5 cents on the dollar compared to other college graduates working in other sectors. According to what Allegretto had to say, “generally, the teacher wage penalty has been on a deteriorating trend since the middle of the 1990s.”

In 1979, female educators received a “premium,” or an increase in pay of 6.5 percent per week above the average weekly income for women who did not work in education. In 2021, male educators earned 35% less than their non-teaching counterparts. This disparity in pay was more prominent for male educators. The discrepancies are pervasive throughout the nation. Every state has a salary difference between teachers and other professions, but Colorado has the greatest, at 35.9 percent. The minimum wage penalty in Rhode Island is 3.4%, the lowest of any state. “The image that continues to emerge is one of a long-steep relative decline in teacher earnings,” Allegretto stated. “The image that keeps forming” “There is little question that many would-be teachers are choosing to forgo a career in public school teaching in favor of a career option that provides greater remuneration.”


“The Teacher Pay Penalty Has Hit a New High: Trends in Teacher Wages and Compensation through 2021.” Economic Policy Institute,, Accessed 28 Aug. 2022.




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