In California and across the country, teachers are navigating a difficult terrain: making enough money to afford living in the districts where they serve. Research by the Economic Policy Institute’s Sylvia Allegretto found that public school teachers nationally make nearly 24% less in weekly earnings than similarly credentialed college graduates in other fields. When benefits such as healthcare were taken into account, the total compensation penalty was 14%, the widest gap since 1979.
The so-called “wage penalty” makes it increasingly difficult for teachers to live in the same communities as their students, forcing them to commute extensive distances to and from school, renting rooms from parents, taking on second jobs and living in school district-operated housing.
Gina Gray, an English teacher at Middle College high school in Los Angeles, prepares for her extensive commute. Photograph: Mark Abramson/for The Guardian
“Educators are educating astronauts, physicists, doctors, lawyers, construction workers, plumbers, electricians,” says Cecily Myart-Cruz, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). “However, educators who have two and three and four degrees are not making enough or more than all of the professions that I brought forward.”
In December, UTLA proposed a 20% raise on salaries over the next two years, among other demands like smaller class sizes. In Los Angeles, a teacher in their first year makes nearly $49,000 whereas the average apartment rental ranges between $2,247 and $3,826, meaning that they would pay at least half their salary in rent each year.