NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 24, 2005

Public officials and teacher unions often compare teacher salaries in a particular city or region against the national average or against other U.S. cities. They assume teachers in areas with higher than average pay are doing well, whereas teachers in areas below the national average must fare poorly.

However, officials may want to consider the cost of living -- the quantity of goods teachers can actually purchase with their salaries -- rather than simply comparing pay. The National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA) found that teacher pay in 50 major metropolitan areas shows that after adjusting for the cost of living, some cities regarded as higher-paying are actually below average, while cities that appear to pay so-so wages are actually quite generous.

  • With an average salary of $59,514, New York City's elementary teachers receive the highest salaries in the nation, but when adjusted for the cost of living, the number drops to $42,662, making New York City's teacher compensation 25th among major cities.
  • With an average salary of $59,284, elementary teachers in San Francisco rank 2nd in the nation; adjusted for the cost of living, the salary falls to $32,663, plunging the city to next to last (49th).
  • In Honolulu, the average annual salary equals $45,467, but the adjusted salary is only $27,048, pushing that city to last place (50th).

Clearly, the cost of living makes a difference when examining teacher pay and making comparisons between different regions. Because the cost of living varies widely from city to city and region to region, public officials and teacher unions should consider how much a teacher's dollar can buy, not just numerical pay, when discussing teachers' wages, says the NCPA.

Source: Danielle Georgiou, Pamela Villarreal and Matt Moore, "Teachers' Cost of Living Matters More," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 535, October 24, 2005.

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