Brandon Dutcher & J. Scott Moody | June 1, 2015

Underpaid? Join the Club

Brandon Dutcher & J. Scott Moody

They work long hours, often spending a great deal of personal time reading and marking up papers. Sometimes they spend their own money for books or supplies. Why do they persevere? Because they believe Oklahoma must have an educated citizenry. And yet, compensation for these dedicated professionals ranks a lowly 38th in the nation. God bless Oklahoma’s journalists.

We bring up this topic of journalist compensation in order to provide some desperately needed context to the oft-heard complaint that teacher pay in Oklahoma falls near the bottom in 50-state rankings (a complaint, by the way, which Steve Anderson challenges on the facing page). While we certainly 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, it must be pointed out that Oklahoma is a relatively low-income state. In 2013, Oklahoma had the 32nd highest private-sector compensation in the country. So it should come as no huge surprise that, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, our elementary, middle, and secondary school teachers ranked 47th nationally in pay.

But it’s not just Oklahoma’s teachers who rank near the bottom. So do Oklahoma’s accountants (36th), pharmacists (39th), and chief executives (39th). For that matter, so do our butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers (46th, 49th, and 30th).

Indeed, so do nearly all of the most common occupations in the state (based on total employment) in 2014: general and operations managers (36th); secretaries (47th); general office clerks (39th); janitors and cleaners (43rd); cashiers (45th); bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks (44th); truck drivers (39th); registered nurses (41st); waiters and waitresses (36th); nursing assistants (46th); maintenance ad repair workers (44th); stock clerks (39th); and licensed practical nurses (40th).

The bottom line: Most Oklahomans receive lower pay than their counterparts in other states. Few of our occupations are near the top in the 50-state rankings. We simply cannot afford to compensate teachers like, say, Connecticut.

Second, while it’s true that 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 3.8 percent (Lawton) to 16.2 percent (Norman) below the national average in 2013.

In fact, of the 12 areas surveyed in Oklahoma, the average cost of living was 10 percent below the national average. This means Oklahomans can buy more goods and services—such as homes, cars, and health care—with their income. It is cheaper to live in Oklahoma, so it’s not reasonable to expect Connecticut-style pay scales for teachers.

In short, the conversation surrounding teacher pay is often too simplistic. Context is important.

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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