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Starting Salaries for Teachers Don't Pay the Rent


It's back to school time, and for many teachers that means a return to their regular jobs from the ones they work in the summers to supplement their incomes and help them — literally — pay the rent. 

Rent is particularly burdensome for teachers early in their careers: At the national level, the median market-rate rent takes a staggering 46.8% of a starting teacher's salary. That improves to 35.6% for mid-career teachers and to 26.6% for the highest paid teachers — the last group finally falling below the 30% generally accepted threshold that deems housing costs to be affordable.

In 19 of the country's largest 50 metro areas, starting-level teachers would pay more than half their salaries on the market rent.

The situation is generally better for teachers that can buy a home instead of rent one, thanks to the benefit of low mortgage interest rates and decades-long mortgage terms that help keep monthly payments very low, even as housing prices rise. Starting-level teachers pay 26.6% of their salaries on the median U.S. mortgage. Affordability improves for mid-career teachers to 20.2% and for the highest paid teachers to 15.1%.

In some of the country's priciest markets, many teachers literally cannot put together a housing payment on their salaries alone — either to rent or own. The median rent in San Jose. Calif., consumes 108.3% of a typical starting teacher's salary. A mortgage on the median home in that metro area takes even more: 129%.

And it's not just expensive coastal markets that devour teachers' incomes. Only one of the country's largest 50 metro areas — Pittsburgh — requires less than 30% of a starting teacher's salary, and it's close, at 29.5%. 


Zillow analyzed salary and income data for a selection of full-time working public preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and special education teacher categories from the U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2017 microdata, made available by IPUMS USA, University of Minnesota, www.ipums.org. 

We divided the observations into cohorts, considering the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile monthly gross incomes for individual teachers and, separately, households that include at least one teacher. To calculate the typical monthly mortgage payment, we first gathered mortgage rate information from Freddie Mac, 30-Year Fixed Rate Mortgage Average in the United States [MORTGAGE30US], retrieved from FRED, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis; https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/MORTGAGE30US. Then using the most recent available rate (August 1st, 2019), we calculated the typical mortgage payment for the median-valued home in a metropolitan area using the metro-level Zillow Home Value Index (ZHVI) for June 2019. Finally, we considered what portion of each cohort's salary goes toward this monthly mortgage payment. 

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