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America's K-12 teachers are increasingly weary as pandemic crushes profession

·3 min read

Eight months after the coronavirus began to spread rapidly, disrupting school systems and society, America’s K-12 teachers are working more and struggling to manage.

A new survey by insurance company Horace Mann (HMN) looked at 1,240 U.S. educators from K-12 teachers to school administrators between October and November found that 77% of educators surveyed said they were actually working more time than they did a year ago while nearly 27% have considered either leaving the profession or taking a leave of absence.

Not only were the respondents worried about catching the virus, they were also worried about the financial implications of getting sick: 59% of respondents said they didn’t feel secure or only felt somewhat secure about their district’s health and safety precautions.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 24: A teacher wears a mask and teaches remotely from her classroom on September 24, 2020 in New York City. New York City, the nation's largest school district opened its classrooms to remote teaching this week and plans to open in-person blended teaching and learning next week. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
A teacher wears a mask and teaches remotely from her classroom on September 24, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

“One way that districts can help prevent their teachers from retiring early is to address health and financial concerns,” Tyson Sanders, vice president at Horace Mann Educators’ Supplemental Division, told Yahoo Finance.

As state and local governments continue to shed education jobs — the latest jobs report noted a decline of 21,000 of local government education jobs — contributing to a growing shortage of teachers, the pressure will be on for schools to retain talent, the report added.

In New York City, there was a 28% increase in teachers announcing their retirement this September as compared to the previous year.

Cases are up across the country. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)
Cases are up across the country. (Graphic: David Foster/Yahoo Finance)

Concern over finances

About one-fifth of educators in the survey had a family member close to them test positive for COVID-19.

And if they catch the virus, the financial cost of bearing the illness weighed on the educators.

44% of respondents said they were not confident, or only somewhat confident, that their health insurance would cover illnesses or health issues that they may face. And a lot more of them — 66% — were not confident or only somewhat confident that their employer benefits would cover unplanned time off if they need to take it for health-related reasons.

Horace Mann’s Sanders, who was a high school math teacher himself in Texas during the financial crisis, stressed that the long-term trend of stagnant teacher wages is also another reason contributing to apprehension among educators.

(Chart: EPI)
(Chart: EPI)

According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, in 2019, public school teachers earned nearly 20% less in weekly wages than other college-educated workers.

“We’ve seen a drastic shift in the wages teachers earn versus other professions that require a college degree,” added Sanders. “Today, public investment in education is lower than it was during the 2008 recession in about 29 states.”

Amid the pandemic, the new survey found that 64% of educators had said they were contributing less, or stopped paying into their general savings account, 29% reduced or stopped contributions towards retirement savings, and 14% to their health savings account.

(Chart: Horace Mann)
(Chart: Horace Mann)

Consumer loans are also weighing on them: 39% said they’re paying less or not paying their credit card balances, 35% said they’re not making a dent on their student loans, and 12% on their mortgage or rent. Furthermore, 15% also said they’d be unable to pay an unexpected $1,000 out-of-pocket expense should the need arise.

All things considered, it would be no surprise if even more teachers left the profession as state and local budgets are stretched in 2021 and beyond.

“So there is reason to believe that if teachers are presented with an opportunity to earn higher wages within the teaching profession, they’ll take them,” Sanders said.

Aarthi Swaminathan is a reporter for Yahoo Finance, covering education. She can be reached at aarthi@yahoofinance.com. Follow her on Twitter at @aarthiswami.

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