Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Are Teachers Middle Class?

The July 3 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek had an interview with President Obama.  It was quite interesting, and I found myself surprised to be agreeing with a number of things the so-called ‘anti-business President’ had to say about business in America.  One comment he made, though, really seemed way off base so I did some digging into the facts.  The President was quoted as saying:

"Think about how difficult it is right now for young, idealistic person who wants to go into teaching to figure out how they're going to live middle class life as a teacher.  There's no job that's more important to our economy than having really good teachers in the classroom, but right now, the way our economy is structured, it's very hard for young people to make that decision unless the parents are subsidizing them in a fairly significant way."

Coming from a family where both my parents were teachers, with my own college degree in teaching, and a number of very close friends and their spouses being teachers, I thought I had a pretty good handle on what that life is like.  And while not the path to untold riches, teaching for everyone close to me has been the path to a comfortable middle class career.  So I got to questioning ‘Is my perception of being a teacher and/or being middle class skewed?’

The data I found says no.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national average of annual salary for teachers in middle and high school is about $54,000, with surprisingly elementary teachers averaging $60,000.  Here in Wisconsin, information available from the Department of Public Instruction said that the average salary for a teacher in 2011-12 was around $55,000.

So teachers in my geographic area earn about as much as the national average.  But are they middle class?  CNN Money has a calculator that addresses that question by assuming that ‘middle class’ means incomes being between 1/3 less than and two times more than the median income in the county.

I live and work in Dane County, and when I plugged that into the CNN calculator I came up with middle class being defined as annual income between $40,418 and $120,652, which must mean that the median income here is about $60,000 per year.  The income listed is for a three person household, which I assume to be two adults and one child, although I couldn’t find any definition of a ‘three person household’ anywhere.

That data means that a household in my area with one employed teacher is on the low end of middle class, and if there were two teachers in that household they are on the upper end of middle class. 

Make no mistake – this has nothing at all to do with whether teachers are over or under paid, or any argument whatsoever along those lines. Most teachers I know are passionate, dedicated professionals and deserve their entire community’s gratitude.  

It’s just that the idea of it being ‘difficult to figure out how to live a middle class life as a teacher’ doesn’t hold water to me.  I always felt that growing up decades ago in a one income teaching household - my Mom stopped teaching to raise us kids - that we were solidly middle class; and the data above shows that a typical teaching household is middle class today, and perhaps even on the upper end of that. 

This is an interesting topic to us, since one of the ideals we value at Trinity Financial Planning is that that objective, holistic financial advice should be available to anyone who seeks it regardless of how many zeroes are in their net worth.  Let us know what you think about whether teaching can provide for a middle class living.

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