Fact Sheet

Fact Sheet: Yes, Increase the Salaries of All Teachers

Teachers across the country are underpaid and deserve a raise.

An Arizona teacher holds up a sign in front of the state capitol during a rally on April 26, 2018. in Phoenix. (Getty/Ralph Freso)
An Arizona teacher holds up a sign in front of the state capitol during a rally on April 26, 2018. in Phoenix. (Getty/Ralph Freso)

In the midst of teacher walkouts and protests in six states,1 Americans across the country overwhelmingly support paying teachers as the professionals they are. According to a recent New York Times poll, nearly three-fourths of U.S. adults believe that teacher pay is too low, and two-thirds support increasing taxes to raise the salaries of public school teachers.2 In addition, an unprecedented number of teachers—who have been fighting for increased education funding, higher teacher pay, and fully funded pensions—are now running for public office.3

Yet there is still debate surrounding whether all teachers need a raise, or if it is enough to make changes for a select group of teachers through differentiated or merit-based pay. While differentiated and merit-based pay can help alleviate some specific teacher shortages, such as those in subjects or schools that are high-needs,4 they are not a substitute for higher base pay. As professionals, teachers are underpaid—and they deserve a raise.

Teachers are underpaid across the country

  • The average starting salary for a regular full-time teacher is only $38,617,5 and the average teacher salary is $59,660,6 though both rates vary drastically by state.

  • The annual pay for teachers fell sharply from 1995 to 2015 in relation to the annual pay of similar workers.7 According to the Economic Policy Institute, public school teachers are paid less than other comparable workers in every state, and they earn 11 percent less on average, when accounting for nonwage benefits.8 This calculation is based on comparable weekly wages.

  • U.S. teacher pay also fares poorly internationally. American teachers work longer hours than teachers in most other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries9 but are paid less relative to other similarly educated workers in most OECD countries.10
  • Nearly all U.S. states do not have fully funded pensions for public employees, failing to provide teachers with a secure retirement. According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, state pension funds created a $1.4 trillion deficit in 2016, and only four states have at least 90 percent of pensions funded.11

Teachers are working second jobs, and many are eligible for means-tested programs

  • As of the 2015-16 school year, 18 percent of U.S. teachers worked second jobs outside the school system.12 Teachers are about 30 percent more likely than nonteachers to work a second job, and in some states, one-quarter of teachers work second jobs.13

  • In many states, teachers earn so little that they qualify for public benefits. Among mid-career teachers—or teachers with 10 years of teaching experience—those who are breadwinners for families of four or more people are eligible for benefit programs, such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program or the National School Lunch Program, in most states.14 Because of their low salaries, in 2014, mid-career teachers qualified for up to seven benefit programs in Arizona, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Dakota.15

Low teacher pay contributes to shortages and a disinterest in the teaching profession

  • A 2018 National Center for Education Statistics survey found that less than half of all public school teachers were satisfied with their pay; 45 percent of teachers who reported dissatisfaction said they would “leave teaching as soon as possible” if they could find a better-paying job.16
  • The percentage of teachers leaving the teaching profession has also increased in the past 25 years.17 Teacher turnover is now twice as high in the United States as in many other countries, including high-performing nations such as Finland and Singapore.18
  • Teacher turnover is exacerbated in states with low pay. Teacher attrition is highest in Arizona, New Mexico, and Louisiana, where the average teacher salary is $50,000 or less.19
  • Fewer young people are showing interest in the teaching profession. Despite a slight uptick in the 2015-16 school year, enrollment in teacher preparation programs is still substantially less than in the 2008-09 school year and shows an overall declining trend.20 Forty-five states have experienced declines in teacher preparation program enrollments.21

Click here for an appendix containing state-by-state numbers.

Sarah Shapiro is a research assistant for K-12 Education at the Center for American Progress. Lisette Partelow is the director of K-12 Strategic Initiatives at the Center. Catherine Brown is the vice president of Education Policy at the Center.


  1. Dana Goldstein, “Why the Teacher Walkout Movement Won’t Reach Every State,” The New York Times, May 16, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/16/us/teacher-walkout-north-carolina.html.
  2. Dana Goldstein and Ben Casselman, “Teachers Find Public Support as Campaign for Higher Pay Goes to Voters,” The New York Times, May 31, 2018, available at https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/31/us/politics/teachers-campaign.html.
  3. Moriah Balingit, “From the classroom to the campaign trail: Emboldened teachers run for office,” The Washington Post, June 2, 2018, available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/see-teacher-run-educators-move-from-the-classroom-to-the-campaign-trail/2018/06/02/e2aac494-4e27-11e8-af46-b1d6dc0d9bfe_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bea1de466e6a.
  4. Stephanie Aragon, “Mitigating Teacher Shortages: Financial Incentives” (Denver: Education Commission of the States, 2016), available at http://www.ecs.org/wp-content/uploads/Mitigating-Teacher-Shortages-Financial-incentives.pdf.
  5. National Education Association, “2016-2017 Average Starting Teacher Salaries by State,” available at http://www.nea.org/home/2016-2017-average-starting-teacher-salary.html (last accessed June 2018).
  6. National Education Association, “Rankings of the States 2017 and Estimates of School Statistics 2018” (2018), available at http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/180413-Rankings_And_Estimates_Report_2018.pdf.
  7. Sylvia Allegretto and Lawrence Mishel, “The teacher pay gap is wider than ever” (Washington: Economic Policy Institute, 2016), Figure A, available at https://www.epi.org/publication/the-teacher-pay-gap-is-wider-than-ever-teachers-pay-continues-to-fall-further-behind-pay-of-comparable-workers/.
  8. Ibid.
  9. National Center for Education Statistics, “Working and Classroom Conditions: Teacher working hours,” available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/talis/talis2013/talis2013results_2.asp (last accessed June 2018).
  10. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, “Education at a Glance 2017: OECD Indicators” (2017), available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2017-en.
  11. The Pew Charitable Trusts, “The State Pension Funding Gap: 2016, Overview” (2018), available at http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2018/04/the-state-pension-funding-gap-2016.
  12. National Center for Education Statistics, “Table 6. Among regular full-time public school teachers, average base salary and earnings from all sources, percentage of teachers with earnings from various salary supplements, and among those teachers, the average amount earned from the supplement during the current school year, by selected school characteristics: 2015–16,” available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ntps/tables/ntps_6t_051617.asp (last accessed June 2018).
  13. Dick Startz, “Why are teachers more likely than others to work second jobs?”, Brookings Institution, March 23, 2018, available at https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brown-center-chalkboard/2018/03/23/why-are-teachers-more-likely-than-others-to-work-second-jobs/.
  14. Ulrich Boser and Chelsea Straus, “Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle With Paltry Incomes” (Washington: Center for American Progress, 2014), available at https://americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2014/07/23/94168/mid-and-late-career-teachers-struggle-with-paltry-incomes/.
  15. Ibid.
  16. National Center for Education Statistics, Teacher Satisfaction With Salary and Current Job (U.S. Department of Education, 2018), available at https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2018/2018116.pdf.
  17. National Center for Education Statistics, “Teacher Turnover: Stayers, Movers, and Leavers,” available at https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_slc.asp (last accessed June 2018).
  18. Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond, “Teacher Turnover: Why It Matters and What We Can Do About It” (Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute, 2017), available at https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/product/teacher-turnover-report.
  19. Leib Sutcher, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Desiree Carver-Thomas, “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.” (Palo Alto, CA: Learning Policy Institute, 2016), available at https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/sites/default/files/product-files/A_Coming_Crisis_in_Teaching_REPORT.pdf.
  20. U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, “2017 Title II Reports National Teacher Preparation Data,” available at https://title2.ed.gov/Public/Home.aspx (last accessed June 2018).
  21. Ibid.

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Sarah Shapiro

Research Assistant

Lisette Partelow

Senior Fellow

Catherine Brown

Senior Fellow