Graph of the Week: Where Are Teachers Really Paid Most?


If you could choose any state to teach in, which would it be?

If you were faced with that decision, you would consider a variety of factors: Where your extended family is located, where your spouse could get a job and, of course, how much you would expect to be paid. But if money is the top priority on your mind, which state would you want to move to?

It's relatively straightforward to pull NCES data (from the 2012-2013 school year) showing the estimated average salary of a public teacher: New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut have the highest average salaries; South Dakota, Mississippi and Oklahoma the lowest. But this data doesn't take into account differences in the cost of living in each state. To understand how far the average teacher salary actually gets you, we can factor in the US Cost of Living Index from the Council for Community and Economic Research.

The green bars in the chart below show the average teacher salary for each state, adjusted for differences in cost of living; the gray marks show the average salary before factoring in cost of living.

When you adjust average salaries to account for differences in cost of living, we find that, in real terms, teachers are paid most in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Our old top three states look less attractive to teach in, although New York and Massachusetts still make the top ten in the list.

Teachers are paid least in real terms in Hawaii, where an extremely high cost of living greatly reduces the buying power of teachers' salaries. Vermont and South Dakota round out the bottom three.

One important caveat to the cost of living data is that the scores are aggregated across the whole state, and do not reflect variations within the state. For example, the cost of living in Chicago is very different from Springfield, IL and teachers' pay should adjust accordingly. But if you were answering our hypothetical question above, this analysis should give you a place to start looking.

What data would you like to see in our Graph of the Week? Drop us a line at!

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