Dept. of Labor: Public School Teachers Are Highest Paid State Workers; Compensation Doubles the Average in Private Industry

By Terence P. Jeffrey | December 14, 2011 | 5:32pm EST

School teachers participating in a demonstration at the Indiana statehouse in Indianapolis, Ind., on Feb. 23, 2011. (AP Photo/A.J. Mast)

( - Public school teachers receive greater average hourly compensation in wages and benefits than any other group of state and local government workers and receive more than twice as much in average hourly wages and benefits as workers in private industry, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Public primary, secondary and special education teachers are paid an average of $56.59 per hour in combined wages and benefits, BLS said in the report released last week.

That is slightly more than twice the $28.24 in average hourly wages and benefits paid to workers in private industry.

In fact, according the BLS, the $28.24 in average hourly wages and benefits that private-industry workers now earn in the United States is less than the overall national average for hourly wages and benefits of $30.11.

That is because the overall national average compensation is dragged upwards from the private-industry average by the much higher wages and benefits paid to state and local government workers—who take in an average of $40.76 per hour, according to BLS.

The BLS report only calculated and published the average hourly wages and benefits for workers in nonfarm private industry and state and local governments. It did not include federal government workers.

While no category of state and local government worker earned more in average hourly wages and benefits than public school teachers, the report listed a few subcategories among private-sector workers who did earn more in average hourly wages and benefits than public school teachers.

These included, for example, managers in private utilities businesses, who averaged $56.94 in hourly wages and benefits; managers in professional and goods-producing businesses who averaged $59.63 in hourly wages and benefits; and workers in aircraft manufacturing, who averaged $61.66 in hourly benefits and wages.

The BLS determines the average hourly wages and benefits of American workers by surveying employers. It defines the number of hours a teacher works by the number of hours the teacher’s employer says the teacher is required to be at the site of the job. BLS used the same methodology to determine the number of hours worked by other salaried employees. Because teachers have extended vacation periods when they are not required to be at school, they tend to work fewer hours, as calculated by BLS, than many other types of workers, including other types of government workers.

For example, in BLS's most recent National Compensation Survey, the agency determined that public primary, secondary and special education teachers worked an average of 1,405 hours in a year. Overall, state and local government workers worked an average of 1,823 hours in a year.

On the high end, government computer software engineers worked an average of 2,124 hours in a year. On the low end, government transportation attendants worked an average of 1,170 hours per year. Government bus drivers worked an average of 1,399 per year—not quite as long as the average for school teachers.

By contrast, according to BLS, private school primary, secondary and special ed teachers worked an average of 1,560 hours per year—or an average of 155 hours more than their public school counterparts.

According to the BLS report, private school teachers were not compensated as highly as public school teachers. When private school primary, secondary and special ed teachers were added to the pool with public teachers, average hourly wages and benefits for teachers dropped from $56.59 to $53.87. The report did not publish the disaggregated average compensation for private school teachers alone.

The $56.59 average hourly compensation for an American public primary, secondary and special education teachers includes $39.69 in wages and $16.90 in benefits, BLS reported.

For each hour at work, according to BLS, the average American public school teacher is paid $4.78 in retirement and savings benefits alone.

The average private sector worker, according to BLS, is paid $1.02 per hour in retirement and savings benefits--or less than one-fourth the average hourly retirement and savings benefits paid to public school teachers. 

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