Who wants to be a school teacher (or a fruit picker)?
Some of you may have seen the recent New York Times article entitled Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional). As the title indicates, it turns out that not too many people are throwing their hat into the school teacher ring recently. And given the enormous turnover, this is bad news for the profession.
I’ve got a general rule about such headlines that I like to follow. Namely, whenever we hear about a “labor shortage” in a given profession, we should think about four things:
- Conditions on the job
- Benefits, including retirement
- Cost/ length of training
So for school teachers, we might break it down like this:
- Wages – median at around $58K, has been rising a bit ahead of inflation if I’m eyeballing this graph correctly
- Conditions on the job – much worse in the past decade due to the Value-Added Model, and other Education Reform measures which remove autonomy and force teachers to teach to the test
- Benefits, including tenure and retirement – under relentless fire from gleeful Republican politicians
- Cost/ length of training – sizable, which means that it might take the profession quite some time to recover
When you take the above points together, you realize that it’s not a salary thing so much as an environment that has become toxic. A capable person, however earnest, would think twice before entering such an industry. This is particularly true right now, when tenure is on the chopping block but the salary hasn’t risen to compensate for the added risk.
Teachers, as a profession, are not so different from truckers, who I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. We’ve got some skilled workers whose environments have been severely degraded, and whose salaries have not risen in response. Considering the fact that the economy is somewhat better, this means people are unwilling to go get trained and qualify for such jobs. Moreover, there’s a real reason in both industries to avoid lowering the barrier to entry; we don’t want illiterate teachers nor do we want dangerous truckers. The solutions are obvious: either make their lives better or give them more money, or both.
There’s one more profession that’s going through a “labor shortage,” namely fruit pickers (hat tip Tom Adams). This is because we have many fewer Mexicans coming in for work, and Americans are generally unwilling to break their backs for a measly $11.33 per hour median wage. This is somewhat different from the other industries, because there’s really no lower bar for training, and anyone willing to do the work is given a job. There are also no benefits or job security, and obviously conditions are horrendous.
Even so, the solutions are still obvious: make the job better or pay more.