Teachers and other public education employees, such as community-college faculty, school psychologists and janitors, are quitting their jobs at the fastest rate on record, government data shows.
A tight labor market with historically low unemployment has encouraged Americans in a variety of occupations to quit their jobs at elevated rates, with the expectation they can find something better. But quitting among public educators stands out because the field is one where stability is viewed as a key perk and longevity often rewarded.
The educators may be finding new jobs at other schools, or leaving education altogether: The departures come alongside protests this year in six states where teachers in some cases shut down schools over tight budgets, small raises and poor conditions.
The rising number of departures among public education workers is in contrast with 2009, when the economy was first emerging from a deep recession. Then, the rate was just 48 per 10,000 public education workers, a record low.
School districts have reported since at least 2015 having trouble finding enough qualified teachers to fill open slots, leading more states to open up temporary teaching jobs to people with no official training, according to the Learning Policy Institute, a nonpartisan education-policy research group. The rate at which qualified teachers are leaving the profession is likely to exacerbate that trend.
In the 12 months ended in October, one million workers quit public-education positions, according to the most recent Labor Department data. More than 10 million Americans work in the field.
In at least 12 states, public education budgets are down at least 7% from 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation, according to an analysis of census data by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Teacher pay across the country, adjusted for inflation, is now 5% lower than it was in 2009, according to data from the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union.
Wages and salaries for public-education workers rose 2.2% in the third quarter from a year earlier, not adjusting for inflation. That matched the largest annual raise in nearly a decade, but was still well below the 3.1% annual increase in pay private-sector workers received in the third quarter, according to the Labor Department.
Sluggish pay gains have been tougher to swallow as more states require that teachers earn master’s degrees to work in the classroom, an expensive proposition that led more teachers to take out loans.
Tensions over inadequate pay and per-pupil funding levels came to a head in 2018 during statewide protests, in some cases shutting classrooms for as many as nine school days. The strikes produced modest gains in the states where they occurred—teachers in Arizona, West Virginia and Oklahoma all received raises—but they also popularized images of dilapidated textbooks and school rooms and portraits of teachers who took on odd jobs to make ends meet.
People are no longer entering the profession, enrollment in education schools has fallen as well.
They have been systematically removing pay, benefits, and job security while making the working conditions more punitive, and they are surprised when less people want that life?
This is econ 101, and kindergarten labor relations.