by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Politicians like to talk about raising average N.C. public school teacher pay to the “national average.” My colleagues John Hood and Terry Stoops have explained — on multiple occasions — why this goal is flawed.
On a related note, Terry demonstrated recently that a cost-of-living adjustment would boost North Carolina’s current average teacher pay ranking from No. 29 among the 50 states to No. 20. (I won’t hold my breath waiting for the argument that we lower teacher pay accordingly.)
But here’s another factor to keep in mind: North Carolina’s private sector bears the brunt of the cost of paying public school teacher salaries. Given that fact, it might make sense to consider how closely this state’s private-sector workers stack up to the national average for the private sector.
I’m not the first one to think about the situation this way. My colleague Don Carrington has made these computations several times since the 1990s. In his most recent work on the issue, Don found that North Carolina’s private-sector workers made average salaries totaling 87.5 percent of the national average for private-sector workers in 2012.
With the “national average” language back in the public debate again today, Don has run the numbers again. In 2017, the latest year in which U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers are available, the average private-sector salary was $48,986 in North Carolina. The national average was $55,338. North Carolina’s average stood at 88.5 percent of the national average.
There’s some good news. Over the five years from 2012 to 2017, North Carolina private-sector salaries grew a full percentage point in comparison with the national average. But the average private-sector worker in this state still falls 11.5 percentage points below that average.
Now let’s return to the discussion of teacher pay. The National Education Association suggests that the average N.C. teacher is paid a salary of $53,975. In comparison, the average teacher salary nationwide stands at $61,782.
Before making further computations, let me offer some observations: First, the average N.C. teacher makes significantly more money than the average private-sector worker. (This is true of the average public school teacher nationwide compared to her private-sector peers as well.) Second, the average N.C. public school teacher earns a paycheck much closer to the national private-sector average than his friends and neighbors working in this state’s private sector.
Now for a little math. Using the NEA’s figures (with no adjustments), the average N.C. teacher makes about 87.4 percent of the average of his counterparts across the country. Reaching the national average would require a pay increase of $7,807, or roughly 14 percent.
But remember: The average private-sector worker in this state earns less than 89 cents for every dollar earned by peers across the country. If teacher pay reached the national average, teachers would be faring much better than their private-sector neighbors in comparisons with peers throughout the United States.
Nonetheless, in this type of comparison, N.C. teachers fall slightly short of their private-sector peers in terms of the comparison of their pay to the national average. Raising the average N.C. teacher pay to 88.5 of the national average would require a hike of $702 to $54,677. That’s a 1.3 percent increase.
One suspects that all players in the current teacher pay debate — the state House, Senate, and governor — will support a pay hike of more than 1.3 percent. But as they move forward, they might want to keep in mind the private sector’s ability to foot the bill.