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Who Makes More: An Engineer, or a Union Teacher?

Teachers Are Doing Well

December 12, 2012

Every time education or labor reforms are proposed, the National Education Association and other behemoth teachers unions work teacher pay into the conversation. Teachers, they’ll tell you, are horribly underpaid given the importance of their work, and make quality-of-life sacrifices in order to pursue their passion for education America’s young people. Any reforms to our education or collective bargaining systems, therefore, are an assault on teachers who are struggling to makes ends meet.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up the average teacher salary in my home city of Worcester, MA. A medium-sized industrial New England city, Worcester and its school system are thoroughly unremarkable and a good model for comparison.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Worcester employs 1,606 teachers at over 40 schools, to serve the 24,411 students enrolled in grades K-12. The average teacher earns $86,005 per year, before taxes.

Eighty-six thousand dollars. On the surface, that sounds like a very reasonable salary–perhaps not one that allows a teacher to drive a Mercedes or join a country club, but one that allows the teacher and their family to live a solidly middle-class life.

In fact, a teacher earning base salary of $86,005 ranks in the 75th percentile of income, making more money than 3 out of 4 Americans. And $86,005 is only the average teacher salary in Worcester, bogged down by the incomes of new hires making entry-level salaries. The upper half of Worcester’s teachers–those with tenure–make even more per year, with some crossing the $100K threshold.

Being a teacher, however, has other perks along with salary. For starters, teachers work 7 hours per day, 180 school days per year, and have summers off. A standard 40-hour-per-week worker will work about 250 days per year–and that’s if they’re not called in to work weekends or holidays, as teachers never are.

Adding this up, teachers work about 1,260 hours per year, while the standard wage earner works about 2,000 hours per year. For a 2000-hour-per-year worker, a salary of $86,005 translates to an hourly wage of $43.

But for a public school teacher, that salary is equivalent to wages of $68 per hour. Sixty-eight dollars of taxpayer money, for every hour of lunch, every hour of recess, every hour of silent reading. And then over two months off to sit at home and recuperate.

What other kinds of jobs pay $68 per hour? Not many that can be held with a bachelor’s degree, with full public sector benefits. A few examples:

  • Senior electrical engineers earn $42-$69 per hour.
  • Entry-level lawyers and clinical psychologists can expect to earn in this general range.
  • IT Project Managers can expect to make $45-$77.
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners–the highest earners of all nurses–only make $42-$61 per hour.
  • Senior mechanical engineers can only expect to make $35-52 per hour.

What would happen if teachers were paid at this rate over a full work year? Worcester’s average teacher would make $141,440, good for the 87th percentile of American workers.

What does all this mean? It should be encouraging for anyone considering entering the teaching profession–but it should also put to bed the union-driven image of the struggling, self-sacrificing teacher. If you play the percentages, the odds are that a teacher in your hometown makes considerably more than you do.

Kevin Palmer

Staff writer at Franklin Center. Contact me at kevin@watchdogwire.com

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