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Cities with the largest teacher pay gap
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Cities with the largest teacher pay gap

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

With fall nearly here, schools across the country are solidifying their reopening plans amidst the pandemic. Teachers are becoming the new frontline workers, and with the virus resurging in many communities, a majority of teachers are worried about exposure to COVID-19 while on the job. Nationally, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that median annual earnings for teachers is just over $59,000, while according to data from the Census Bureau, median earnings for full-time bachelor’s degree holders is $70,000. Teacher pay is lagging behind many other professions, and now teachers face new risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of teacher strikes has increased in recent years, with teachers fighting for better pay, benefits, and working conditions. According to data from the BLS, among the 425,500 workers involved in major work stoppages in 2019, over half were in the educational services industry. In real terms, teacher pay has changed little in the last 30 years. In 1988, the average public teacher’s salary was $60,529 in constant 2017-2018 dollars, slightly higher than what teachers make today.


Teacher salaries have not only stagnated, but teachers also earn considerably less than other workers with comparable levels of education. At just under $60,000 median teacher pay falls in between the median pay for associate’s degree holders and bachelor’s degree holders, despite a majority of teachers holding a post-baccalaureate degree. Nationally, teachers earn 15.7 percent less than all full-time workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.


Teacher pay varies significantly by location, with teachers in some cities and states earning far more or less on average than others. At the state level, Arizona and Oklahoma have the largest teacher pay gaps in the country, with teachers earning 33.5 and 29.1 percent less than all full-time bachelor’s degree holders, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, teachers in Rhode Island and New York tend to earn more than all full-time college-educated workers. In these states, median teacher pay is about 6 percent higher than that for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders.


To find the metropolitan areas with the largest teacher pay gap, researchers at Smartest Dollar, a review website for insurance and financial services, analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The researchers ranked metro areas according to the pay gap between teachers and full-time workers with bachelor’s degrees. Researchers also calculated median annual earnings for teachers, median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders, and cost of living for each metro area.

To improve relevance, only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

  • Small metros: 100,000-349,999
  • Midsize metros: 350,000-999,999
  • Large metros: more than 1,000,000

Here are the metropolitan areas with the largest teacher pay gap.



Large Metros With the Biggest Teacher Pay Gaps

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Austin-Round Rock, TX

  • Teacher pay gap: -19.2%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $58,178
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $72,000
  • Cost of living: 0.2% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

  • Teacher pay gap: -19.4%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $74,915
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $93,000
  • Cost of living: 17.8% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson, IN

  • Teacher pay gap: -20.4%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $51,734
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $65,000
  • Cost of living: 8.4% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

  • Teacher pay gap: -20.9%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $67,997
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $86,000
  • Cost of living: 12.9% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

  • Teacher pay gap: -21.3%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $59,004
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $75,000
  • Cost of living: 0.7% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

  • Teacher pay gap: -21.5%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $58,848
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $75,000
  • Cost of living: 1.8% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. St. Louis, MO-IL

  • Teacher pay gap: -22.3%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $54,418
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $70,000
  • Cost of living: 9.0% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Kansas City, MO-KS

  • Teacher pay gap: -23.0%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $51,582
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $67,000
  • Cost of living: 7.1% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO

  • Teacher pay gap: -27.1%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $54,678
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $75,000
  • Cost of living: 4.9% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

  • Teacher pay gap: -30.9%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $48,380
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $70,000
  • Cost of living: 5.8% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Oklahoma City, OK

  • Teacher pay gap: -32.2%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $40,666
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $60,000
  • Cost of living: 9.3% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA

  • Teacher pay gap: -32.5%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $79,624
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $118,000
  • Cost of living: 29.4% above average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ

  • Teacher pay gap: -34.2%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $46,059
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $70,000
  • Cost of living: 1.9% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Raleigh, NC

  • Teacher pay gap: -35.3%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $46,560
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $72,000
  • Cost of living: 3.4% below average

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. Tucson, AZ

  • Teacher pay gap: -37.5%
  • Median annual earnings for teachers: $39,367
  • Median annual earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders: $63,000
  • Cost of living: 6.1% below average

Detailed Findings & Methodology

The metros with the highest teacher pay gaps are spread across the country and include locales with high costs of living as well as cities that are more affordable. These metros tend to have lower median annual earnings for teachers as well as higher median annual earnings for all full-time, college-educated workers. Among the large metros with the highest pay gaps, the average pay gap between teachers and full-time bachelor’s degree holders is -26.5 percent. Tucson has the largest pay gap, with teachers earning 37.5 percent less than all full-time bachelor’s degree holders.

Incidentally, many of the metros with the largest teacher pay gaps happen to be located in areas that are seeing, or have recently seen, resurgences in COVID-19. When schools reopen, teachers in these cities are at higher risk than teachers living in areas with lower community transmission of the virus. Some teachers in these areas, especially those nearing retirement, may decide that returning to work is not worth the risk.

To determine the metros with the largest teacher pay gaps, researchers at Smartest Dollar analyzed the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey Public Use Microdata Sample (ACS PUMS), the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics data (OES), and the Bureau of Economic Analysis’s 2018 Regional Price Parity (RPP) data. The researchers ranked metro areas according to the pay gap between teachers and all full-time bachelor’s degree holders. In the event of a tie, the metro with lower median earnings for teachers was ranked higher. Teacher median earnings data comes from the OES while median earnings for all full-time bachelor’s degree holders is sourced from the ACS PUMS. Only elementary, middle, and high school teachers in public and private schools were included. Special and technical education workers were not included.

Only metropolitan areas with at least 100,000 people were included in the analysis. Additionally, metro areas were grouped into the following cohorts based on population size:

  • Small metros: 100,000-349,999
  • Midsize metros: 350,000-999,999
  • Large metros: 1,000,000 or more
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