We see a number of teachers throughout the country shutting down schools (pretty much exclusively in states with Republican governance where Democrats think they can make inroads). But I think it’s a good time to go back and talk about our basic economics and how they affect the discussion of teacher’s pay.
I think that, first off, it’s important to point out that wages are directly controlled by the iron law of Supply and Demand. We also want to consider that all economic decisions are not entirely based on money; this is expressed as opportunity cost vs. opportunity benefit or implicit vs explicit costs (a good example of this is a woman who chooses to forgo her career to have and raise children. It hurts her earnings – an opportunity cost, but she gets children and she gets to ensure that they are properly raised and cared for, the opportunity benefit) So, right off the bat, we know that in general, compensation for teachers is generally in the ball park. You don’t have people swarming to the profession but you also generally don’t have too much trouble filling those jobs.
You can have a perverse opportunity cost vs opportunity benefit scenario where you see wages are out of whack, which is what we have in certain labor markets where you have people claiming that there are jobs “that Americans just won’t do“. If there was really a problem with what teachers were being paid, you would not be able to fill those jobs. So, while you can still have a discussion about compensation, we know already that what is being offered in the teaching profession is in line with what the supply curve would require. And what the teachers are implicitly endorsing here is Karl Marx’s Labor Theory of Value. This can safely be summed up as the idea that labor isn’t subject to the law of supply and demand and instead holds an intrinsic value, which is the position that these teachers (and unions in general) tend to take. The problem is that they will not admit that they are arguing for a communist economic system even though they clearly and distinctly are.
Now, let’s move on to some of the sleight of hand tricks that dishonest teachers organizations like to use. And I say dishonest because a group that bills themselves as educators really has no excuse for not knowing this stuff. They love to claim that “Teacher pay in X state is lowest in the nation!” And you know what, that’s probably true. But what they don’t reveal is that the location that they’re talking about has the lowest cost of living in the nation. This lie was particularly useful to them in West Virginia. And it is also being repeated in North Carolina, where we are expected to feel bad that teachers aren’t paid as much as they would be in New York City, despite the fact that the cost of living is several orders of magnitude less. And if we go back to the concepts of Opportunity Cost vs Opportunity Benefit, living in an area with a high cost of living is, in fact, a cost. And conversely, living in a place with a low cost of living is a benefit. These teachers believe that we’re dumb enough to think that they’re going to move to a region with an obscenely high cost of living to teach in inner city schools for a modest wage increase.
Let’s go back to our previous paragraph where we talked about supply and demand. If those jobs were that much more desirable then we would all hear Ross Perot’s Giant Sucking Sound as all the teachers stampeded for those cities. The unpleasant truth of the matter (for teachers) is that if you live in a state that has an average income in the bottom 20% of states in the US, and a cost of living in the bottom 20% of the US, then your salary is probably going to be in the bottom 20% of school systems in the US. One might think that there was some kind of correlation there.
And lastly, lets talk about the qualifications of teachers. A quick Google search turns up a pretty useful website for this kind of information.
How to Become a Teacher in North Carolina
Anyone pursuing a North Carolina teacher certificate must hold a bachelor’s degree and complete a state-approved teacher preparation program in North Carolina. Additionally, there are required examinations and a background check that must be submitted before applying for teacher certification.
Teachers in North Carolina must hold certification for the subject or grade level they wish to teach. Teaching certificate areas include birth through kindergarten, elementary (grades K-6), middle grades (grades 6-9), secondary grades (grades 9-12), special subjects (K-12), exceptional children (K-12), and vocational education. There are also alternative routes to certification in North Carolina for those looking to change careers.
So, in North Carolina, if you have a 4 year degree, there are pathways for you to become a teacher. How is this relevant, you may ask? Well, Supply and Demand is the one ring to rule them all in economics. And if you increase wages enough, teaching becomes a more attractive option for other individuals with 4 year degrees. People who otherwise were not part of your job market before are suddenly going to find it more attractive and more worthwhile to enter the profession. In an expanding economy where college graduates are highly sought after, this isn’t so much a problem for teachers when demand for labor is high. But economies are cyclical and there will always be another recession, and when the labor market gets weak, other 4 year degree holders, ones who may be more qualified to teach certain subjects than you, may start to push you out of your preferred profession. Which is why it is foolish to try to use the force of government to give you a windfall beyond what the market would otherwise bear.