The Problems Go ‘Round and ‘Round
Following up on my (probably poorly stated) previous post, a specific instance of the conversation’s various subthreads is illustrative, beginning with the following, from Thomas:
The average teacher salary in RI for 04-05 was $53,473 (I know Frank will say it’s higher, but I don’t think he’s given us figures and a source yet, so I’ll stick with the RIPEC figure). That put us 8th in the nation, right after Mass.
In order to reasonably compare states, you need to control for cost of living. ($50k goes a lot further in Kansas than in RI). Using the MERIC-COLI to do so, RI ‘s indexed teacher salary is $41,841, which puts us 34th in rank (national average is $43,647).
John says, “…, as a percentage of its average private-sector worker’s salary, is the highest in the country, and has been since at least 1990.”
Looking at Bureau of labor stats for 2005, John is correct. RI teacher salaries are 1.44 times the average private salary, which is higher than any other state. However, we have to ask whether this ratio is generated by very high teachers salaries, or something else.
The BLS average private industry salary for RI for 2005 was $37,067. That put is at 22 in rank. The national average was $37,374, so we were slightly below the average, but slightly above the median.
However, if you index this figure as well, RI’s becomes $29,004, which puts RI private salaries at 47th in rank, and substantially below the average of $36,338. (The ratio of indexed teacher salaries to indexed private salaries remains 1.44)
So, here’s another way of looking at the data John gives us: RI teachers make more, relative to private sector workers, than teachers in any other state. However, relative to cost of living, our teacher salaries are about at the national average. The primary reason for the high ratio is that, relative to cost of living, our private sector salaries are very, very low.
Tom W responded, in part:
The premise that we must factor in cost of living one the one hand is valid, but on the other is not. In the private sector few companies say “gee, just because you live in RI we’re going to pay you more.”
On which John expands, (again) in part:
Of course, some will immediately point out that this reflects our mix of businesses — output per hour worked in retail and restaurants being lower than, say, biotech. But that only begs the question of what has caused RI’s mix of industries to tilt toward low labor productivity operations. Which, of course, brings us back to our education system, and the quality of the work force it produces (as well as the extent to which our generous social programs are attracting an influx of low productivity workers, and our high taxes and poor schools are keeping high productivity industries from investing here). All food for thought.
I’d rework the workforce-supply side of John’s reply — implying that inadequate schools produce a low-quality workforce, which, I gather, attracts low-paying employers — to suggest that, whatever the quality of their education, Rhode Island youths on their way to promising careers find it necessary to leave the state. Thus, not only do we attract that “influx of low productivity workers,” we also keep only that segment of our native sons and daughters. As Tom W correctly noted, private businesses don’t readjust salaries based on employee location; rather, they conclude that they can’t afford to pay workers what they would require in Rhode Island and therefore locate elsewhere.
So one of the a priori positions that affects the debate over statistics is to what teachers’ salaries ought to be compared in order to determine whether they are fair. After justifiably calling me on an aspersion against him in the comments to the previous post, Bob Walsh calls it “spin” to “compare average private sector wages in total to teacher wages.” Given the degree to which these issues are all connected, however, it seems a perfectly legitimate comparison, especially if we’re looking at it in a national context.
A few years ago, I posted a pie chart on Dust in the Light illustrating (with very rough data) that the average teacher could afford to pay one other family’s housing costs (including mortgage) and still have the state’s average post–tax and housing remainder. (And that didn’t include benefits.) The national pie chart is substantially different.
Furthermore, with the need to “attract good people” leveraged so often to justify teachers’ compensation packages, it’s surely relevant that Rhode Islanders would hardly need more than the national average incentive to leave their below-average private sector for the education industry. That is especially true in a state in which all industries that are not tied to the location (e.g., because they offer services such as healthcare and retail) are fleeing. As I pointed out the following day those few years ago, almost all of Rhode Island’s fastest-growing occupations are location-specific, and Elementary and Secondary Schools topped the list, exactly an area of the profession in which Mr. Walsh admits that supply exceeds demand.
What other than — or perhaps I should say “in addition to” — unions is keeping teachers’ salaries moving in the opposite direction of that which market forces would suggest?
Looking back at the sorts of posts that I was able to write in the mid ’00s, I can’t help but lament their falling away. The specific examples linked above helped to provide the impetus for me to join with Andrew and Marc and start Anchor Rising. For those wondering about my motivations, that is the sort of thing that I wanted, and continue to want, Anchor Rising to provide.
Nowadays, I frequently wonder whether the effort that I’m actually able to make is worthwhile. Would that I could quantify and analyze every problem that Rhode Island has, but those very problems require me to put aside the unpaid research for labor. This damned, damned state.
Somebody else’s Google search reminded me of a post that I wrote about a year ago in response to a statement by Bob Walsh that “working on the issues related to poverty will help teachers help students,” with reference to SAT scores. A chart that I put together back then seems relevant to the current discussion:
The key point is that, at least in these three towns, SAT scores correlate with average income, but not with the poverty rate (by which measure Barrington and Tiverton are nearly identical) and certainly not with teacher salary. As I said when I first published this chart, a town such as Central Falls (or Tiverton, for that matter) would be well advised to lower teachers’ salaries and redirect the savings toward such improvements as will increase average household income — and with the emphasis not on welfare-style poverty programs, but on working/middle-class economic activity programs.