Enrichment Education

Teachers’ salaries have increased just $29 since 1996: report

The Economic Policy Institute said targeted policy action is urgently needed to address teachers’ wages and without it there’s, “no reasonable expectation of reversal in sight for pandemic-stressed schools and those who serve public education.”
Second grade teacher Abigail Steinle works to get her classroom ready at Grove Elementary School Thursday, Aug. 11, 2022 in Tulsa, Okla. Mike Simons/ Tulsa World via AP

Story at a glance


  • The Economic Policy Institute published a new report on the history of teachers’ wages in the U.S. 

  • The average weekly wages of public school teachers, adjusted for inflation, increased just $29 from 1996 to 2021 — from $1,319 up to $1,348. 

  • By 2021, teachers’ average weekly wages were nearly 33 percent behind that of other college graduates. 

Teachers in the U.S. haven’t seen a significant bump in their pay in more than 20 years, despite a global pandemic and skyrocketing inflation, and this trend risks the retention and attraction of future teachers.

The average weekly wages of public school teachers, adjusted for inflation, increased just $29 from 1996 to 2021 — from $1,319 up to $1,348. Teachers have consistently earned less than their nonteacher, college-educated counterparts, and that wage penalty was found in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. 

This data is from a new report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), which analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) focusing on weekly teacher wages for those with at least a bachelor’s degree.  

The results showed that teachers’ weekly wages have remained relatively flat for the past 25 years, starting at $1,052 in 1980 and growing to only $1,348 by 2020. Other college grads who did not become teachers earned $1,364 in 1980 and saw their weekly wages grow up to $2,009 by 2020. 

That difference in pay has recently widened even further, with EPI calculating that teachers’ average weekly wages were nearly 33 percent behind that of other college graduates by 2021 — the largest difference researchers observed since the 1980s. 


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However, researchers noted that the teacher wage penalty began widening significantly more starting in the mid-1990’s and reached one of its widest points in 2020 at 21.6 percent and then 23.5 percent in 2021. That means, on average, teachers earned just 76.5 cents on the dollar compared with what similar college graduates earned working in nonteaching jobs.  

Looking at the data from a local level, EPI researchers found that from 2016 to 2021 no state offered teachers relative weekly wages that were equal or surpassed that of their nonteaching college graduate counterparts. 

Colorado held the steepest wage penalty at nearly 36 percent. It was closely followed by Oklahoma at 32.8 percent, Virginia at 32.7 percent and Arizona at 32 percent. 

Rhode Island had the smallest wage penalty for teachers at only 3.4 percent, along with Wyoming at 4 percent and New Jersey at 4.5 percent. 

Overall, EPI found teacher wage penalties are larger than 20 percent in 28 states. 

Researchers concluded that targeted policy action is urgently needed and without it there’s, “no reasonable expectation of reversal in sight for pandemic-stressed schools and those who serve public education.” 

The repercussions of decades of low pay are being especially felt now, with the National Education Association estimating there’s a shortage of nearly 300,000 educators and support staff across the country. 

States are handling the shortage in different ways. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is allowing veterans without a college degree to apply to become temporary teachers. In Oklahoma, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) enacted a law that allows state agencies to substitute teach without losing pay or benefits — including police officers and bank employees.