Recently, Progress NC and WNCT produced very similar stories about public school teachers who take second jobs outside of the school system (moonlighting).  They contend that Republican leaders have failed to raise teacher compensation enough to allow educators to cover basic needs on a single source of income.

A closer look at the teacher moonlighting data does not support that conclusion.

  1. According to the 2012 School and Staffing Survey, around 16 percent of public school teachers sampled for the survey had a job outside of school.  Twenty-four percent of the North Carolina sample maintained outside employment during that year.  In other words, the data are at least four years old.  At best, the survey data capture only the first year of Republican leadership in the state legislature.
  2. There is no consistent relationship between salary and moonlighting.  Actually, I found a negative correlation (p= -.0785) between the percentage of teachers who had a job outside of the school system and the base salary for the 2011-12 school year.  The state with the highest percentage of moonlighting was Maine, which offers a base salary that was considerably higher than North Carolina.  High salary states, including Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, had moonlighting rates that exceeded 20 percent.  Some of the lowest salary states, such as Mississippi and Arizona, had relatively low percentages of moonlighting teachers.
  3.  The observation above is further substantiated by a 2010 article published in Applied Economics Letters, “Teacher moonlighting: evidence from the US Current Population Survey,” John Winters of Auburn University concluded, “I find that male teachers and teachers with advanced degrees are more likely to moonlight, but teacher pay appears to have little or no effect on the propensity to moonlight.”  Winters’ finding was consistent with prior research. In a 1995 Education Economics article, “Causes and Consequences of Teacher Moonlighting,” Dale Ballou wrote, “Moonlighting is shown to be highly insensitive to levels of teacher pay, even when controlling for variations in costs of living and local labor market conditions.”  In an article published in The Journal of Educational Research a year earlier,  L. Carolyn Pearson, Delos Carroll, and Bruce Hall found, “The results suggest that the act of moonlighting is not an expression of dissatisfaction with the teaching profession so much as it is an attempt to raise living standards.”
  4. The 2012 School and Staffing Survey does not indicate why teachers chose to take a second job.  Media outlets and advocacy groups may speculate about it, but the truth is that they really do not know.

Obviously, there are teachers and other government employees who struggle to make ends meet, even in higher salary states.  But the causes of those struggles are much more complex and varied than they first appear.


Update: WNCT refused to allow me to post a link to this blog post in their comment section.