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The Truth About TIME’s ‘Underpaid Teachers’ Story

“I Work 3 Jobs And Donate Blood Plasma to Pay the Bills. This Is What It’s Like to Be a Teacher in America,” reads the cover of TIME Magazine this week – and the story is going viral. I haven’t been able to scroll through a social media feed without seeing someone linking to the article – which features the stories of a handful of allegedly struggling teachers.

It’s hard not to sympathize with the subjects in the article. While I wouldn’t count working over the summer as a “second job” (as was the case with some of them), some did work second jobs during the teaching year. While I’m all for paying certain teachers more, TIME’s piece doesn’t make a convincing case for that. In fact, the TIME article doesn’t do anything other than prove life is hard, given that all of the teachers profiled in the piece earn incomes above that of the average American.

The main takeaways we see in the article are:

  • That nationwide, the estimated average public-school teacher’s salary is now $58,950, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
  • We’re told one of the women profiled “‘…often skips doctor’s appointments to save the co-pay and worries about paying for her eldest daughter’s college education.’ She said “It’s not about wanting a pay raise or extra income. It’s just about wanting a livable wage.” She earns $69,000 per year, more than double what the average wage earner does.

Not included in the TIME article is any mention of fringe benefits, such as health benefits and a pension (the latter of which few workers have today)

So how does this compare? The average American worker works 1,811 hours a year, and there are 2,087 hours in a full time work-year. The average work year is about 260 days, but only about 170 for teachers (or 65% as many days). One study of elementary school teachers found that they spend 1,131 hours a year teaching, or 62% as many hours as the average person (and 54% as many hours as a full time, year round job).

While it’s not like teachers get to choose their hours, it’s not an apples to oranges comparison when we think of teacher salaries. A $58,950 average salary for a job that only works 65% the days of a regular job would be the equivalent of earning $90,193 in a year-round job.

Statistically speaking the overwhelming majority of people reading this article earn under $69,000 a year (myself included!), but unfortunately I don’t think TIME will be profiling any of us anytime soon.

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