Brandon Dutcher & J. Scott Moody | December 4, 2008

Underpaid? Hey, Me Too!

Brandon Dutcher & J. Scott Moody

Recent news stories tell us that the state’s most powerful labor union has collected signed petitions asking for more money for education.

In the months ahead, you can bet you’ll be reminded that teacher pay in Oklahoma ranks near the bottom in 50-state rankings. What you’re not likely to get is some desperately needed context.

While we believe that good teachers deserve to be paid more (while bad teachers deserve to be paid less), our response to complaints of low pay is twofold.

First, we can’t help but say to Oklahoma teachers who think their paychecks are too small: Join the club. Oklahoma is a relatively low-income state. In 2007, Oklahoma had the 40th highest private-sector compensation in the country.

So it’s not just our state’s teachers who rank near the bottom (48th, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics). So do our accountants (46th) and our pharmacists (41st) and our CEOs (46th).

For that matter, so do our butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers (48th, 47th, and 36th).

Indeed, nearly all of the most common occupations (based on total employment) in the state rank near the bottom: general and operations managers (48th); secretaries (47th); general office clerks (41st); janitors and cleaners (45th); cashiers (47th); bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (46th); truck drivers (45th); registered nurses (49th); waiters and waitresses (43rd); nursing aides and orderlies (47th); maintenance repairers (41st); and licensed practical nurses (46th).

The hard truth is, most Oklahomans are paid less than their counterparts in other states. Few of our occupations are near the top in 50-state rankings.

Our taxpayers cannot be expected to compensate teachers like they do in, say, Connecticut. But it’s not for lack of trying. The latest figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis tell us that, based on their ability to pay, Oklahoma’s doctors and clerks and pastors and waitresses are in fact making a heavy sacrifice for education at all levels. Oklahoma ranks 26th among the 50 states in state and local education spending as a percentage of personal income.

Secondly, let’s remember that, although incomes are lower in Oklahoma than in other states, so is our cost of living. According to the ACCRA cost-of-living index, Oklahoma’s cost of living ranges from 8.5 percent (Lawton) to 17.6 percent (Pryor Creek) below the national average.

Overall, of the 12 areas surveyed in Oklahoma, the average cost of living was more than 13 percent below the national average. That means Oklahoma teachers can buy more goods and services with their income.

As a matter of fact, former public school teacher Terry Stoops, now a public policy researcher in North Carolina, discovered in 2007 that when adjusted for cost of living, pension contribution, and experience, teacher compensation in Oklahoma ranks an impressive 14th in the nation.

Something to think about next time the discussion turns to underpaid teachers.

Scott Moody is an OCPA research fellow.

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s vice president for policy.

An earlier version of this article was published in 1999.

Brandon Dutcher Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher

Senior Vice President

Brandon Dutcher is OCPA’s senior vice president. Originally an OCPA board member, he joined the staff in 1995. Dutcher received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Oklahoma. He received a master’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in public policy from Regent University. Dutcher is listed in the Heritage Foundation Guide to Public Policy Experts, and is editor of the book Oklahoma Policy Blueprint, which was praised by Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman as “thorough, well-informed, and highly sophisticated.” His award-winning articles have appeared in Investor’s Business Daily, WORLD magazine,,, The Oklahoman, the Tulsa World, and 200 newspapers throughout Oklahoma and the U.S. He and his wife, Susie, have six children and live in Edmond.

J. Scott Moody

OCPA Research Fellow

OCPA research fellow J. Scott Moody (M.A., George Mason University) serves as chief executive officer of State Budget Solutions. Formerly a senior economist at the Tax Foundation and a senior economist at the Heritage Foundation, he has twice testified before the Ways and Means Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. Moody is the co-creator of the Tax Foundation’s popular “State Business Tax Climate Index.” His work has appeared in Forbes, CNN Money, State Tax Notes, The Oklahoman, and several other publications. This article is an updated version of an analysis published in 2008.

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