Teachers are underpaid in Chicago and US overall

A lot of the contrived outrage around the Chicago Teachers Union strike is around the critics’ false belief that the teachers are overpaid and greedy. You’ve probably heard that CTU teachers are paid an average of $70,000 and the union rejected a 16% pay raise.

Zaid Jilani has reported that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a Chicago teacher is only $56,720. And about rejecting that big raise, in fact “The district offered a cost-of-living raise of 2 percent a year for four years, which the union said was unacceptable — especially after Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year canceled a previously negotiated 4 percent raise.”

Jilani also reports that the teachers are fighting against generally bad conditions, including huge class size, crumbling schools with no libraries, no air conditioning, and limited access to the arts and music for students.

So in the midst of a lot of conservative misinformation about Chicago’s overpaid teachers, it’s worth noting, as Dean Baker does, that until very recently, we’d been lead to believe that salaries of $250,000 or even up to a million dollars a year were considered working class.

Since the Chicago school teachers went out on strike Monday, many political figures have tried to convince the public that their $70,000 average annual pay [sic] is excessive. This is peculiar, since many of the same people had been arguing that the families earning over $250,000, who would be subject to higher tax rates under President Obama’s tax proposal, are actually part of the struggling middle class. They now want to convince us that a household with two Chicago public school teachers, who together earn less than 60 percent of President Obama’s cutoff, have more money than they should.

Baker also gets specific, noting that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel made over $274,000 at an apparent no show job at Freddie Mac after he left the White House, while noted austerian Erskine Bowles made $335,000 at Morgan Stanley the year his investment bank had to be bailed out to prevent its failure.

While Chicago’s teachers are obviously underpaid in comparison to Freddie Mac’s Emanuel and Morgan Stanley’s Bowles, a new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows American teachers are also very underpaid compared to their peers in the developed world.

The average primary-school teacher in the United States earns about 67 percent of the salary of a average college-educated worker in the United States. The comparable figure is 82 percent across the overall O.E.C.D. For teachers in lower secondary school (roughly the years Americans would call middle school), the ratio in the United States is 69 percent, compared to 85 percent across the O.E.C.D. The average upper secondary teacher earns 72 percent of the salary for the average college-educated worker in the United States, compared to 90 percent for the overall O.E.C.D.

American teachers, by the way, spend a lot more time teaching than do their counterparts in most other developed countries

One would think that if we wanted the US to be competitive with other countries in the developed world, we would want to have the best teachers, paid competitively with other countries’ teachers.

The experience for Chicago’s school children is not a good one, given the poor conditions they are asked to attempt to learn in. The Chicago Teachers Union is on strike to try to get guarantees from the school system to address these concerns and to make sure teachers have pay worthy of the important job of securing the future generations of American leaders.

Compared to the destructive economic actions of highly paid individuals like Rahm Emanuel and Erskine Bowles, it hardly seems controversial for Chicago’s teachers to be paid a fair wage, under a fair contract.


Matt Browner-Hamlin is a blogger & political strategist based in Washington, DC. He has written about US politics since 2004. He's worked on presidential and Senate campaigns, in the labor movement and the Tibetan independence movement. He is the founder of OccupyOurHomes.org and currently spends much of his time fighting Wall Street banks. Matt on Google+, and his .

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