Education, Economics and Politics

In theory, most consumers want rising wages and plentiful, good-paying jobs. Despite historically low unemployment, the pay isn’t where it should be. People are working longer hours and multiple jobs to make ends meet — except of course for the few fortunate retirees with good pensions and the very rich.

What is less obvious is that there are huge disparities in what people get paid depending on where you live. The disparities far exceed differences in cost of living in most cases.

A current example of this is in disparities in spending on public education. An educated labor force is one of the requirements for an expanding economy. Employers don’t want to pay for remedial education for workers. Long gone are the days when people could make a decent living with manual labor — with the possible exception of work in Amazon warehouses.

The disparities in spending on education line up with disparities in economic performance, income, healthcare, life expectancy and political affiliation. The states that spend the most on education (teachers’ salaries and spending per student) are:

  1. New York: teacher median salary = $78,576; per pupil spending = $18,665; high school graduation rate = 79.2%; cost of living compared to national average = +15.3%
  2. Connecticut: $78,330; $17,283; 87.2%; +8.7%
  3. California: $77,429; $9,417; 82.0%; +13.4%
    — high salaries but low per pupil spending
  4. Alaska: $77,307; $20,640; 75.6%; +5.6%
  5. Massachusetts: $74,468; $14,569; 87.3%; +6.9%
  6. Rhode Island: $69,795; $15,002; 83.2%; -1.3%
  7. New Jersey: $68,893; $16,337; 89.7%; +13.4%
    –2nd in the number of adults with high school degrees
  8. Oregon: $67,384; $11,515; 73.8%; -0.8%
  9. Maryland: $65,852; $13,075; 87.0%; +9.6%
  10. Washington State: $64,987; $10,395; 78.2%; +4.8%

The states that spend the least are:

  1. Oklahoma: $39,306; $9,227; 82.5%; -10.1%
  2. South Dakota: $41,271; $11,113; 83.9%; -11.8%
  3. Arizona: $44,284; $8,131; 77.4%; -3.8%
  4. Mississippi: $44,294; $9,885; 75.4%; -13.8%
  5. North Carolina: $45,195; $9,217; 85.6%; -8.8%
  6. West Virginia: $45,437; $12,993; 86.5%; -11.1%
  7. Idaho: $46,446; $8,442; 78.9%; -6.6%
  8. Missouri: $47,806; $11,558; 87.8%; -10.7%
  9. Florida: $48,134; $9,737; 77.9%; -0.5%
  10. Louisiana: $48,307; $12,153; 77.5%; -9.4%

New Mexico is middle of the pack in terms of spending, but has the lowest rate of adults with high school degrees in the US. Of course, the graduation rate is a funny metric: some districts hold students to strict standards and some don’t. However, it should be the mission of every school district and every parent to see that all children complete high school. There is no career path — no future — without that degree.

In horse racing, the best riders get the best horses and the highest pay. In economic theory, the same should apply to teachers, with the best going where they can get the best pay. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Someone can be constrained by family issues or a spouse’s job. However, in general, the best should go where they get paid the best.

In looking at the data, the bargains for teachers appear to be Rhode Island and Oregon, where they can get substantially above average pay with a below average cost of living.





  1. I live in Arizona and the way we compensate teachers is absolutely deplorable. From your numbers, it looks like we have the lowest per pupil spending and a comparatively low graduation rate. What’s unfortunate is I know several wonderful teachers who have switched careers or moved to another state, simply because they aren’t being fairly compensated and because the state isn’t offering students the resources necessary to succeed. I hope that something changes soon.


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