How Close Are Teachers to Receiving Poverty Benefits?

We compared teacher salary in every state to the threshold for receiving Medicaid benefits. Here’s what we found.

How Close Are Teachers to Receiving Poverty Benefits?

By now, it’s an all-too familiar story: Salaries are low, and teachers are feeling the crunch. They may take a second job to make ends meet or be marching in support of better teacher pay. We all know that teachers aren’t getting paid as much as they should, but just how poorly paid are they?

First, let’s break down a few facts. While average teacher pay is on the upswing, growing 15.2 percent from 2006–2007 to 2016–2017, when inflation is factored in, teacher salary has actually decreased by three percent. In addition, a recent report found that public school teacher pay in 2015 was 17 percent lower than comparable workers (compared to 1.8 percent lower in 1994). So, even though a teacher’s paycheck says that more money is coming into their bank account, they may be feeling like the budget is tighter than ever.

We looked at the federal poverty rate at 138 percent of the poverty level for a family of four (to receive Medicaid your family must be at or below 138 percent of the poverty level) and then subtracted that from the average teacher salary for each state. The smaller the number, the closer to the poverty line, and the more crunched teachers feel (in general). Overall, 138 percent of the federal poverty rate is $34,638. The average teacher salary nationally is $58,479. (Important caveat: This does not account for differences in the cost of living, which also vary greatly.)

Scroll down to see where your state ranks and how the topic of teacher salary is playing out in some states.

1. Mississippi: $8,287 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Mississippi ranks low overall in teacher pay, but the governor has committed to making teacher pay a focus for the 2019 legislative session.

Image credit www.pbs.org

2. Oklahoma: $10,654 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Oklahoma teachers walked out during the 2017–2018 school year and gained a $6,100 pay raise, but some teachers still left, frustrated that the gains did not make up for years of lost pay.

Credit: Photo by John Raby/AP/REX/Shutterstock (9435169b)

3. West Virginia: $10,917 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

West Virginia teachers were the first to walk out and demand higher wages. They gained a five percent pay raise and sparked protests across the country.

4. South Dakota: $12,341 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

5. New Mexico: $12,484 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

6. Utah: $12,606 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

7. Florida: $12,629 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Image credit www.washingtonexaminer.com

8. Arizona: $12,765 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

9. Idaho: $12,866 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

In an effort to retain teachers, districts along Idaho’s borders are focusing on improving working conditions and increasing support for new teachers.

10. Arkansas: $13,666 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

11. Missouri: $13,980 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

12. Kansas: $14,784 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Teachers across Kansas have already seen a pay increase this year, like the 3.5 percent raise in Wichita and the 8 percent raise in Topeka.

Image credit www.charlottestories.com

13. North Carolina: $15,332 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

North Carolina teachers have taken their demands for higher salaries to the state capital and made national news, like Nashonda Cooke, a teacher from Raleigh.

14. Louisiana: $15,362 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

15. South Carolina: $15,362 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

16. Tennessee: $15,461 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

17. Alabama: $15,753 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

18. Virginia: $16,411 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

19. Maine: $16,439 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

20. Montana: $16,784 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Image credit: www.chalkbeat.com

21. Hawaii: $16,810 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Hawaii has a different threshold than the rest of the country because the cost of living is so high. In Hawaii, the 138 percent of poverty level is $39,841.

22. Colorado: $17,170 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Colorado teachers protested in the spring, and legislators made changes in the retirement funds, but more work needs to be done to address teacher pay. The November election will determine the next step for education funding in the state.

Image credit www.morningstaronline.co.uk

23. Kentucky: $17,700 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

24. Nebraska: $17,700 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

25. Texas: $17,937 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

26. North Dakota: $17,937 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

27. Indiana: $19,670 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

28. Washington: $19,795 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

29. Wisconsin: $19,795 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

30. Georgia: $20,894 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Image credit www.politics.myajc.org

31. Iowa: $21,009 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

32. Minnesota: $22,708 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

33. Vermont: $22,711 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

34. Nevada: $22,738 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

35. New Hampshire: $22,884 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

36. Wyoming: $23,549 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

37. Ohio: $23,564 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

38. Alaska: $24,834 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold 

Alaska has its own poverty threshold calculation because of the cost of living. In Alaska, 138 percent of the poverty level is $43,304.

39. Delaware: $25,576 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

40. Oregon: $27,224 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

41. Michigan: $27,649 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

Michigan is where a teacher’s money goes the furthest. Michigan has the highest salaries overall, when adjusted for the cost of living.

42. Illinois: $30,295 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

43. Pennsylvania: $31,627 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

44. Rhode Island: $31,839 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

45. Maryland: $33,719 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

46. New Jersey: $34,985 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

47. Connecticut: $38,509 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

48. District of Columbia: $41,054 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

49. Massachusetts: $43,462 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

50. California: $44,490 above the 138 percent of poverty  threshold

51. New York: $47,264 above the 138 percent of poverty threshold

New York is the best state for teachers, according to WalletHub, and the high average salary has something to do with it.

What are your thoughts on teacher pay? How does your state stack up? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook.

Plus, why affordable housing is out of reach for many teachers.

Top image credit: @sfernc on Instagram.

Posted by Samantha Cleaver

Samantha Cleaver, PhD, is a former special education teacher and instructional coach. She loves writing, reading, and traveling to new places that she's read about.

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