A new report by EPI Economist Emma García and Research Associate Elaine Weiss adds to a growing body of research on the financial hardships faced by teachers. The authors find a connection between poor compensation for educators and the national teacher shortage, which forces many to supplement their pay through moonlighting and other strategies.
In the 2015–2016 school year, 59.0 percent of teachers took on additional work either in the school system or outside of it—up from 55.6 percent in the 2011–2012 school year. 44.1 percent of teachers took on second jobs within the school system, such as coaching, student activity sponsorships, mentoring other teachers, or teaching evening classes. 18.2 percent worked outside of the school system, and 5.7 percent received compensation based on student performance. For these teachers, moonlighting made up a substantial 7.0 percent share of their total income.
Importantly, financial stress is greater for teachers in high-poverty schools. In 2015-16, teachers in high-poverty schools were paid significantly less than those in low-poverty schools ($53,300 vs. $58,900) and earned a slightly smaller amount from moonlighting ($4,000 vs. $4,300), and the moonlighting that they did was less likely to involve paid extracurricular or additional activities for the school system, which can help them grow professionally as teachers.
“It’s an appalling reality that many of the professionals whom we entrust with the critical job of teaching our children are under such financial stress that they work a second or third job to supplement their paycheck,” said Weiss. “And the pay penalties are worse in high-poverty schools, where we must provide extra supports and funding, not only to support students directly, but to reduce the teacher shortage.”
The data suggest that fewer people are willing to choose a profession that puts them at a financial disadvantage. Recently, EPI researchers found that after accounting for education, experience, and other factors known to affect earnings, teachers’ weekly wages in 2018 were 21.4 percent lower than their nonteaching peers. García and Weiss compare the salaries of teachers who remained in the profession to those who left. For those who quit teaching, the average salary was smaller than for those who stayed, suggesting that pay is a contributor to teacher attrition and the teacher shortage. The existing shortage of teachers harms students, teachers, and the public education system as a whole—and low relative pay and school poverty are clearly implicated as factors behind the teacher shortage.
“Policymakers need to think holistically about how to remove the obstacles that keep people from pursuing careers in teaching, and act now in ways that support teachers economically, at their workplaces, and enhance the prestige and professionalism of teaching,” said García. “Only through a concerted effort will we solve this growing crisis.”
This is the third report in the series on the teacher shortage. The first report established that current national estimates of the teacher shortage likely understate the magnitude of the problem. When aspects such as teacher qualifications associated with excellence and the unequal distribution of highly credentialed teachers across high- and low-poverty schools are taken into consideration, the teacher shortages are much more severe than previously recognized. The second report found that U.S. schools struggle to staff themselves due to the high rates of voluntary turnover and attrition and a decreasing interest in teaching careers.