Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Are Teachers Overpaid In The US?

An ongoing meme of those supporting Governor Walker's efforts to crush public unions in Wisconsin is the repeated claims that public workers are overpaid. There is plenty of evidence that this is not so, even with their greater benefits, but I think another piece of evidence may be useful, a cross-country comparison of teacher salaries. This is important given that at the state and local levels, teachers are the most numerous of public workers, and it is hard to compare them with private sector equivalents, who are not that numerous at the K-12 level.

So, according to OECD data reported by the New York Times for 2007, out of 33 OECD countries, the US is #26 in pay per GDP for primary school teachers with 15 years of experience. No, we are not overpaying our teachers, not at all.

OTOH, out of 18 countries listed for 2007, US general practitioners are #1 in pay per GDP. Big surprise.

While teachers are more likely to be publicly paid in all of these countries, doctors get a higher proportion of their pay privately in the US than in these other countries, although a substantial proportion is public. Yet, as has been widely reported, life expectancy and infant mortality rates in the US are way below those of other high income countries. We overpay our doctors while underpaying our teachers, and more generally there is no reason to believe that publicly paid teachers are somehow ripping off their fellow citizens.


Anonymous said...

IF public school teachers are in the highest-paid slice of the middle class then you know your economy is in trouble.

The background for this fight is that the rest of the middle class has been whacked and there simply isn't the money to support all the teachers.

I expect the Republicans to lose the austerity fight, but it will be harder to beat them than it has to. The response from the leftoids has been raise taxes and so depress the middle class further. That's why nobody trusts you.

kjmclark said...

That's nonsense. The left is trying to raise taxes on the upper class, not the middle class. The question is how the right has been so successful at playing the lower and middle classes. Or, how does raising taxes on the wealthy "depress the middle class further"?

The right has become very adept at using marketing and propaganda tools to protect the wealthy. That's what's changed, and the reason we're having this odd argument over teacher's salaries in the first place. The conversation goes "The rich are taking half of the income in the country - now in our economic crisis, we need to tax the rich more to help everyone else." "Look at how much those overpaid teachers and their union bosses are taking from you! We need to cut their pay to match the cuts everyone else has suffered. - Girls gone wild at spring break, stay tuned for video!"

Jacquesen said...

The response from the "leftoids" has been to raise taxes on the wealthy and lower them for the middle class, the reverse of the "rightoids."
Yet, the stupidity class keeps on voting.

Jacquesen said...

The Republican plan, IMO, is deliberate. They lower taxes on the wealthy so that those on the middle class are increased. See the 2010 tax cut deal that saw Republicans demand raised taxes for a significant segment of the lower-income population. In a vicious cycle, Rethug politicians then stoke anger among the middle class for the purpose of lowering them for the wealthy. And so on.

Barkley Rosser said...


Are you saying that all those OECD countries that pay teachers more better relative to doctors, lawyers, and others than does the US do not have or cannot maintain middle classes? This is far from obvious. Indeed, much of this does have to do with our having income and wealth way too skewed to the top 1/2% who get taxed little.

Anonymous said...

You can't throw a rock here in Boston without hitting a doctor from some windmill country driving the biggest SUV he could find when he hit these shores. He would probably tell you that doctors are underpaid over there.

jackie100 said...

I think teachers need to be compensated a lot more then what they are currently earning in the U.S considering the importance of their job. Not to mention the fact that they spend a lot of hours developing lesson plans and grading papers etc. It will be hard to retain quality teachers with lower salaries.

As for doctors, they shouldn't be judged only on mortality rates of infants. What about other thing such as increased life expectancy due to better medical care etc. There are a lot more factors involved. Also, it takes more schooling to become a doctor and the curriculum is very challenging.

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