Teachers Are Paid Less to Commute

We found the average commute times for teachers in each state, finding that they’re paid significantly less for their commutes than other professions.

David Lutherby David LutherUncategorized - 6 months ago

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.

  1. Alaska
  2. Wyoming
  3. North Dakota
  4. Montana
  5. South Dakota
  6. Kansas
  7. Iowa
  8. Nebraska
  9. Utah

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).

Fancy school districts may mean longer commutes

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.

Teachers earn less money for traveling farther

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.

Teachers may have figured this out

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.

The reason

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.

Ranking of states by teacher commute times

Rank State Commute Time State Living Wage
1 AK 13 54,400
2 WY 13 47,951
3 ND 14 46,814
4 MT 15 47,083
5 SD 15 45,410
6 KS 16 48,054
7 IA 16 48,882
8 NE 16 48,076
9 UT 16 47,922
10 ID 17 45,801
11 OK 18 46,613
12 AR 18 44,571
13 NM 18 48,050
14 MS 18 46,084
15 WV 19 44,823
16 MO 19 46,159
17 IN 19 46,838
18 LA 19 47,975
19 OR 19 51,900
20 MN 19 52,115
21 NC 19 49,575
22 KY 19 43,308
23 WI 19 51,120
24 OH 19 45,853
25 TN 20 46,785
26 WA 20 51,271
27 NV 20 52,698
28 TX 20 48,160
29 AZ 20 51,341
30 VT 20 51,977
31 CO 20 53,792
32 DE 20 53,112
33 AL 20 45,824
34 SC 20 46,568
35 MI 21 48,837
36 ME 21 51,305
37 GA 21 47,946
38 VA 21 54,264
39 FL 22 52,206
40 CT 22 59,502
41 RI 22 53,240
42 PA 22 49,914
43 NH 22 55,103
44 IL 23 52,304
45 CA 23 57,315
46 MA 23 59,560
47 HI 24 60,700
48 NJ 24 56,109
49 MD 25 58,178
50 NY 26 59,128

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