Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Badly Did the Recession Hit Teachers?

On May 6, The New York Times ran a story headlined “Teacher Pay Hurt by Recession, Report Says.” It summarized a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality that “looked at salary data across 41 of the country’s 50 largest school districts.”

The report found that “Average annual teacher pay increases, which included cost-of-living and contractually negotiated raises as well as increases awarded for extra years of experience, dropped from 3.6 percent in the 2008-09 school year to 1.3 percent in the 2011-12 year. (The report did not include increases that teachers may have received for extra degrees or certifications.)”

Of course, a lot of American teachers have been working in districts other than the 41 surveyed for this study. I decided to use the latest figures from the Occupational Employment Statistics program of the U.S. Department of Labor to see whether the trends in large districts differed from the trends in the country as a whole.

As a stand-in for district-based pay, I used the salaries reported for the five largest metropolitan areas: New York–Northern New Jersey–Long Island, NY-NJ-PA; Los Angeles–Long Beach–Santa Ana, CA; Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI; Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington, TX; and Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV.

For these five metro areas and for the four years 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2012, I calculated the mean of the median earnings reported for three teaching specializations: elementary, middle school, and secondary school teachers, excluding special and vocational education teachers from each specialization. I chose these four years because the difference between the first pair represents the recession, and the difference between the second pair represents the recovery.

Here is a graph showing the salary trends for teachers in these very large metro areas:

As you can see, their earnings took a large plunge with the onset of the recession. And although their earnings bounced back with the recovery, their rate of increase slowed considerably once they made up for lost ground.

To see how the large-metro trends compared to the nation as a whole, I looked at the national estimates for the earnings of these three teaching specializations over the same four years. Here’s a graph of what I found:

The national trend differs markedly from the trend in the largest metros. Rather than a plunge, recovery, and leveling-off, the national trend is steady upward progress.

Now, you may be wondering whether the trend in the size of the teaching workforce has shown a relationship with the earnings of those teachers. I plotted the size of the workforce for these three specializations, both for the nation as a whole and for the totals of the five largest metro areas, and I find highly similar trends: a very slight uptick during the recession—probably creditable to normal growth trends being maintained by the availability of stimulus money—followed by a slow downward slope as stimulus funds and other rainy-day resources were exhausted and tax revenues were not recovering as robustly as the GDP.


The lesson I take away from this investigation is that although teacher salaries in large metro areas and nationwide have followed different trends, the uniformly declining size of the teacher workforce is a reason for national concern. A young friend of mine with a recent degree in education has been unable to find a permanent teaching job in New Jersey and is poised to take a position at an international school in Santiago, Chile. I don’t know how America expects to maintain a knowledge economy while begrudging the budgets necessary to staff our classrooms.

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