Teacher Salaries and Earnings for College Graduates

On Monday I posted this chart comparing average (mean) teacher salaries with median household income in each state.

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click to enlarge

I think that’s an interesting chart because it provides some sense for how a teacher’s salary looks in the context of a state’s overall level of wealth.

But that comparison doesn’t tell us everything we might want to know about teacher salaries. As I mentioned before, for example, we might want to know how teacher salaries compare to incomes for other, similarly-educated people in the state.

It turns out that the Census Bureau keeps some of the relevant information here. So below is a chart expressing average teacher salaries as a fraction of the median income of Bachelor’s degree-holders at least 25 years old in each state.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Virginia’s teacher salaries remain the lowest by this measure, and New York’s remain the highest (although the difference between them is less extreme). As before, variations in average teacher experience (at least as of 2007-2008) do not appear to explain a significant amount of the variation from state-to-state.

The two measures are correlated in general, but not as strongly as you might expect and many states change their position in the “rankings” considerably. Louisiana, for example, has the second-highest teacher salaries in the country compared to median household income, but drops all the way down to 35th place when teacher salaries are compared to earnings for other individuals with four-year degrees. The “top ten” states by each measure have only four states in common: New York, Michigan, California, and Pennsylvania. Only five states – Virginia, South Dakota, Washington, Colorado, and Oklahoma – are in the bottom ten by both measures.

Of course, this measure of teacher salaries isn’t perfect, either, and should be interpreted with caution. For example, comparing salaries for teachers – all of whom were employed – to the the incomes of all BA-holders – many of whom may have been unemployed – may overstate the financial outlook for prospective teachers. On the other hand, teachers may receive forms of compensation, like substantial vacation time, that are not captured by these data.

So don’t get too carried away trying to draw major inferences from these figures. They’re interesting, but don’t definitively answer any major questions in education reform.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted December 19, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Permalink

    Teachers often have masters degrees

  2. Sam
    Posted February 9, 2014 at 8:49 AM | Permalink

    It would be better to see it as comparison to cost of living and by city. Rent or mortgage which is the single biggest driver (up to 40%) of income expense is greatly varied by state

    • Posted February 9, 2014 at 10:07 AM | Permalink

      Sam – That could be an interesting comparison, but I think it measures something somewhat different. The comparisons I did here look at something like, “In each state, how attractive are teacher salaries relative to other possible career options?” Cost of living certainly varies considerably from place to place, but a high cost of living in an area makes that area less desirable (all else equal) for any occupation. Since teachers in particular tend to be geographically immobile, such a comparison wouldn’t tell us quite so much about the relative generosity of compensation in different professions, it would just help us see how people (in any line of work) have to spend their money.

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