Teachers often say they never went into the profession for the pay.
They never expected to earn six figures or take frequent and lavish vacations while shaping the minds of the future. But they also didn’t anticipate working a second or third job to make ends meet, forgoing medical procedures to save money or teachings classes with upwards of 35 students.
The average salary for teachers in the United States has fallen in recent years as the cost of living expenses continue to rise and pensions, health care premiums and other expenses drive deeper into a teacher’s budget. Indeed, teachers are now leaving the profession to pursue more lucrative careers elsewhere or taking the drastic measure of moving to different states with higher salaries on average.
Throughout the recession in 2007 and during its recovery, large swaths of teachers got laid off and school districts froze salaries for years at a time — thus making working conditions more difficult, Linda Darling-Hammond, president and CEO of the Learning Policy Institute told Money in a recent interview. Teachers began paying for their classroom supplies out of pocket and working longer hours to accommodate for bigger class sizes.
While the general difficulties teachers face financially exists in each state, the impact of it varies drastically. Public school teachers earn on average $79,152 a year in New York, while those working in South Dakota earn $42,025 — the highest and lowest averages for teachers salaries in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., respectively. That’s according to the latest figures from the National Education Association, which measures how teacher salaries and benefits have changed over the years, nationally and statewide. Nationwide, the average salary for public school teachers was $58,353 in 2016 — though 36 states are below the national average.
In 30 states, Darling-Hammond said, some teachers who have a family of four qualify for government assistance. “So their own kids could be on food stamps or free lunch in school,” she said.
Teachers in states with some of the lowest salaries on average like Oklahoma, West Virginia, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina have engaged in protests, walk outs and strikes in recent months to demand better wages, benefits and working conditions from their state legislatures. The activism has earned these educators some wins — like a promise to raise the average salary for teachers in Arizona by 20 percent by 2020 — but participating educators say there’s still more work to be done.
To get a sense of the differences between a teacher’s salary in each state, take a look at Money’s map below. It includes the average public school teacher salary for every state, according to the National Education Association.