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Long commutes are taxing. Even more than the $0.55 that the IRS values each mile, commuting costs us time, health, sleep, and freedom — but that’s the necessary tradeoff for the
otherwise dream job, right?
Well, not for American teachers. Our study of commute times and teachers’ salaries found that educators are compensated significantly less for traveling farther to and from work than jobs with similar salaries — and despite this, teaching in an area with a higher living wage results in longer commutes.
We also ranked states by commute times for teachers to give you perspective. States are ranked by teacher commute times with the full list below; but first, here’s a quick look at the top ten.
Read further to see much farther your states’ educators have to drive for the dollar — if you’re a teacher considering a move, then this will be worth your time (even if commuting longer isn’t).
An NPR story recently showed that teachers often can’t afford to live near their schools — and we found that states with higher living wages also tend to have longer commute times.
We used BLS data to set the nationwide teachers’ median salary at $56,700, which we used as a baseline to find the intercept with other industries’ commute times — we got these from the Census Bureau’s latest American Community Survey data.
In terms of salary for each additional minute commuting, teachers have to commute farther than other professions to see a bump in pay — for every extra $10,000 they would hope to earn, they have to commute 60 percent farther
To provide a real life example, consider the states with the shortest and longest teacher commutes, Alaska (13 minutes) and New York (26 minutes). Based on a 180-day school year, that 100 percent different equates to an additional 78 hours a year that New York teachers spend commuting for the same salary.
And if we’re valuing your time by your salary, the shorter commute for living in Alaska is analogous to a $2,000 salary bonus.
However, we also found that teachers spend less times on their commutes, perhaps incentivized by our earlier finding. For other professions earning $56,700, the teacher median salary, you’ll need to commute about four minutes more.
It appears that teachers have done the math themselves, even if it’s not the subject they teach: there’s not much value added by traveling long distances for work.
Teaching is hardly your typical profession, in that makes a teaching position great for a teacher isn’t as dependent upon salary as it is location, students, parents, and administration — which complicates the explanation for this economic phenomenon. The likely reasons: the inherent dispersion of public schools and salaries that are largely structured.
Schools are necessarily spread throughout districts, with institutions instructing similar grade levels rarely in close proximity. Teachers typically certify in specific grade ranges; and unless they choose to move their residences, decisions to change schools within their district requires a larger-than-average difference in commute.
And because districts usually operate within structured pay scales, moving for a significantly different salary often requires changing districts. This would require an even farther commute if the teacher were to stay at their current home, while districts with higher pay generally correlate to overall higher cost of living.
|Rank||State||Commute Time||State Living Wage|
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