How many unemployed teachers are there?

by on September 10, 2011 at 10:46 am in Economics, Education | Permalink

This bit from Bruce Yandle challenges the conventional wisdom:

As to hiring teachers, total employment in local government education is already up by one million workers since August 2010. Teacher employment in state government nationwide is up 300,000 workers. The unemployment rate in education and health services at 6.3% is one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates. While the president implied that teachers were being cut from payrolls at a heavy pace, the data say otherwise. The president’s efforts are seen as misguided if the goal is to ease some of the pain in high unemployment sectors.

Here is another source:

As Figure 1 shows, state government education employment is up by 2.1 percent since the start of the recession while all other state government employment is down 1.9 percent — a substantially larger decline than in other parts of the state-local sector. State government non-education employment began falling less than a year into the recession, and fell below its pre-recession level about a year and a half after the start of the recession.

Do you wish to see more, including on local government education employment?

This BLS graph (look under “And which industries show declining employment over the summer?”) shows a strong seasonal trend which may confound some month-specific citations, but still the number seems to be back to where it had been in earlier years (admittedly the scaling and visuals are not what I would wish for) and more importantly it is hard to spot much effect of the recession at all:

So what exactly is the case here for stimulus of this sector?  Is this really a sector to target?  I would gladly see and consider alternate numbers and interpretations, but so far I file this under: “Yet another example of something the press should have reported about a President’s speech but didn’t.”  Once again, it is the disaggregated demand which matters.

David Shere September 10, 2011 at 11:07 am

This is an interesting point, and it’s certainly challenging to conventional wisdom. I just want to point out that the 6.3% unemployment figure is misleading. That number is for both education and health care workers. According to BLS, the unemployment rate for “educational services” is 9.3 percent. For “health care and social assistance, the number is 6.0.

prior_approval September 10, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Caught that, did you? That ‘education’ and ‘health care’ are actually two completely different fields? Well, don’t tell anyone – it will ruin both a continuing (see the post about ‘patronage’ below) narrative and what will likely be a brand shiny new consensus – just by coincidence, of course.

Prof Applewhite October 1, 2011 at 4:33 pm

We invite educators, parents and others interested in the future of education at all levels to share their comments, questions, and stories. Our show on October 8, 2011 is concerning unemployment among teachers.You can join us live by calling 1-646-727-3758 every Saturday morning 10-11am or hear previous episodes at http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher Be sure to share information about our shows with your friends, colleagues, and students. Thank you for your comments. Professor Applewhite
Email me at danita.applewhite@gwmail.maricopa.edu or find me on Skype @ professor.danita.applewhite

Tomasz Wegrzanowski September 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

> According to BLS, the unemployment rate for “educational services” is 9.3 percent. For “health care and social assistance, the number is 6.0.

9.3% seems very high compared with other professions with similar educational requirements, and that’s after stimulus money.

Edward Burke September 10, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Even with “similar educational requirements”, the teaching profession is perhaps not professional in ways that other professions profess profession. Many public school teachers have DEGREES in “education”, and outcomes are wildly variable depending on the specific panoplies of pseudo-science and brainiac pedagogical theorizing they emerge equipped with. The closed circle–of educators educating educators about education–spins with velocities rivaling a large hadron collider. While standards may have begun to shift in recent decades to focus on subject area proficiency (language, math, science, et cetera), many public school teachers to this day are licensed/credentialed/certified simply by possession of a degree in education, and “teacher training” hinges often enough upon completing further work in education courses and not in specific subject areas. Then, too, what other “profession” exhibits and tolerates the rates of sub-professional performance that afflict the education profession? (Apart from the pandemic intellectual laziness that afflicts the class of public school teachers on a scale rivaled only by that which besets the class of professional journalists.) Public schools across this country have in recent years seen rashes of cases of teachers dismissed for sexual predation upon their students (one small state I know of has had dozens and scores of such cases, mixed with incidents of purveying porn, purveying alcohol, purveying illicit drugs, et cetera), which perhaps spawn an outsized public disenchantment with public educators as a class. Such violations of “professional conduct” perhaps do not distinguish educators from other professionals, we just never seem to hear of comparable numbers of cases afflicting the medical or legal professions, e. g.

Prof Applewhite October 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Your comments ring with truth, Edward. Teacher training, a major part of my profession in the field of rehabilitation and educational psychology, does not encompass many of the necessary skills to prepare student teachers and their students for life-long learning and crisis management. I am one who encourages elementary through graduate school administrators to involve teachers in more than just gaining CEU’s . It is important for those of us who see this trend to encourage teachers to have balance in developing proficiency in subject areas and sharing realistic life scenarios to encourage positive life management skills. I host the Student2Teacher2Student radio show via Internet and invite you and others reading this blog to join us in creating dialogue that will enhance communication between all of us in the profession of education. We invite parents and others interested in the future of education at all levels to share their comments, questions, and stories. You can join us live by calling 1-646-727-3758 every Saturday morning 10-11am or hear previous episodes at http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher Be sure to share information about our shows with your friends, colleagues, and students. Thank you for your comments.
Professor Applewhite Email me at danita.applewhite@gwmail.maricopa.edu or find me on Skype @ professor.danita.applewhite

John September 10, 2011 at 11:18 am

I’m confused about the scale. Those numbers are in levels, not logs. Are the charts in logs and the corresponding axis transformed back to levels?

John September 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

That wouldn’t make sense either.

Curt F. September 10, 2011 at 11:42 pm

I’m not sure what is confusing. The y-axis indicates the number of people employed. The distances between the various numbers on the y-axis vary as the log as the number. Thus, the scale of the y-axis is logarithmic.

Prof Applewhite October 1, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hi John, I think our energy can be spent on what the bottom line information is ” according to BLS, teachers are not involved in the unemployment crisis”. Is this true regardless of levels or logs? We invite you and other educators, parents and those interested in the future of education at all levels to share their comments, questions, and stories with us. Our next radio show on October 8, 2011 is concerning unemployment among teachers.You can join us live by calling 1-646-727-3758 every Saturday morning 10-11am or hear previous episodes at http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher Be sure to share information about our shows with your friends, colleagues, and students. Thank you for your comments. Professor Applewhite Email me at danita.applewhite@gwmail.maricopa.edu or find me on Skype @ professor.danita.applewhite

Fazal Majid September 10, 2011 at 11:32 am

I’m no Republican, but it is obvious to me the reason why is simply patronage, as teachers’ unions are a big component of the Democratic base, and big donors in state campaigns as in California. One aim must be to reduce states’ ability to wring concessions from the unions using a credible threat of layoffs due to budget shortfalls.

y81 September 10, 2011 at 11:36 am

Prof. Cowen has very different numbers today from Prof. Thoma. I feel like it’s best to ignore economists, when they can’t agree on such elementary factual questions.

JA September 10, 2011 at 3:18 pm

The numbers are not different; they are just presented in different fashions. What we are most interested in is how the recession has affected education employment. Mark Thoma uses a chart (titled 3 Years of School Job Cuts) from a study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The figure presents numbers for August-to-August local education jobs from 2008-2011. Important things to note before moving on: 1) local education employment is not a measure of how many people work in schools (it’s a proxy and will also include those employees who work at the central office and at various other school district administration and maintenance sites); 2) local education employment does not represent the total number of teachers because local education employment includes not only district employees but school-specific staff such as principals, assistant principals, teachers’ aides, janitors. Thus when politicians cite local education employment numbers and then make the leap that teachers are losing their jobs, they are probably wrong.

Back to the numbers. The figure I mentioned above shows that local education employment (again not the number of teachers) fell 44,000 from Aug 2008- Aug 2009, 56,000 from Aug 2009 – Aug 2010, and 194,000 from Aug 2010- Aug 2011 (Aug 2011 numbers are preliminary). Are these numbers big? You can’t tell from the information presented in the figure. Here is another way of representing the data: local education employment (again NOT the number of teachers) fell 0.5% from Aug 2008- Aug 2009, 0.7% from Aug 2009 – 2010, and 2.4% from Aug 2010 – Aug 2011.

Like I mentioned above, we are interested in the impact of the recession on local education employment. The recession started in Dec 2007, so we should not start in Aug 2008 (total local education employment then was 8103.3 thousand), as the researchers at the CBPP did. We should start in Aug 2007 which gives us a starting point of 7986.4 thousand. The Aug 2011 local education employment was 7810.1 thousand. Percent change between Aug 2007 and Aug 2011… -2%. So has local education employment been hurt by the recession? Not that much. And if people are unwilling to say that there are some employees in local education systems that are not vital to the functioning of that school system, perhaps we have a bigger problem.

Prof Applewhite October 1, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Hi JA, As i mentioned in a previous reply, I think our energy can be better spent on what the bottom line information is ” according to BLS, teachers are not involved in the unemployment crisis”. Is this true regardless of levels or logs? I appreciate your clarification of the chart and comment that we may have a bigger problem if we ignore other valuable employees in LEA’s. We invite you and other educators, parents and those interested in the future of education at all levels to share their comments, questions, and stories with us. Our next radio show on October 8, 2011 is concerning unemployment among teachers.You can join us live by calling 1-646-727-3758 every Saturday morning 10-11am or hear previous episodes at http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher Be sure to share information about our shows with your friends, colleagues, and students. Thank you for your comments. Professor Applewhite Email me at danita.applewhite@gwmail.maricopa.edu or find me on Skype @ professor.danita.applewhite

ezra abrams September 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm

i agree with you; these guys are to lazy to make even a minimal effort to clean up the data before blogging, just ignore em

Jacob September 10, 2011 at 11:54 am

Given widespread reports of teacher layoffs in districts throughout the country, it seems reasonable to question these numbers. How is there no decline visible in local and state government education?

Ted Craig September 10, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Because announced layoffs and actual layoffs often differ. They announce layoffs and then see how many teachers retire.

Anthony September 10, 2011 at 1:51 pm

And part of that is because of insane policies like California’s requirement that any teacher must be given notice on or before March 15 for a layoff for the following academic year (beginning in August/September). That’s a state law, not a common provision of contracts.

A couple of districts, knowing there would be a crunch for the following year, issued layoff notices to *all* their teachers on March 15. I’m not sure why more districts don’t do that.

RZ0 September 10, 2011 at 12:06 pm

The scaling in the chart makes a big difference.
Here’s the data behind the chart, which can by found by following a link on the site that Tyler links to: http://1.usa.gov/oOQXeO. For the local government column only and April figures. (May would be better but the series runs out at April 2011.) April 2011 was at 8.3 million, about 160K less than the peak two Aprils earlier. That’s about 1.5% difference.
At the state level, employment is up about 30K, or 1.2% – not surprising since enrollment in public colleges is countercyclical, so there’s extra revenue to justify the hiring.
Instead of employment numbers, it might be helpful to look at student-teacher ratios. Public school enrollment generally follows demographic trends, though there is some countercyclicality as a weak economy forces some parents to pull their kids from private school.
As far as whether it’s better to replenish teachers or some other trade, well, it may not be economically efficient, but it is politically efficient.

Prof Applewhite October 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm

Thanks for the link RZO.
We invite you and other educators, parents and those interested in the future of education at all levels to share their comments, questions, and stories with us. Our next radio show on October 8, 2011 is concerning unemployment among teachers.You can join us live by calling 1-646-727-3758 every Saturday morning 10-11am or hear previous episodes at http://blogtalkradio.com/student2teacher Be sure to share information about our shows with your friends, colleagues, and students. Thank you for your comments. Professor Applewhite Email me at danita.applewhite@gwmail.maricopa.edu or find me on Skype @ professor.danita.applewhite

Chad September 10, 2011 at 12:11 pm

How do we count umemployed teachers who have never taught? I personally know at least 3 individuals who have picked up teaching certs while out of work. None of the three have yet to hold a teaching position. Two are currently seeking substitute positions while the third went back to work in his original field. Do we count any of these three as “unemployed teachers”?

joshua September 11, 2011 at 10:59 pm

I’m wondering what “unemployed teacher” even means, or what any description of “unemployed [profession]” means. If you are unemployed, you have no profession, and if you continue to define yourself by your previous profession when there may no longer be the same demand for your previous profession than you may simply be in denial. I’m not saying this is always the case, and of course it usually isn’t, but the nomenclature seems disingenuous. (What about the percentage of unemployed horseshoe makers post-Ford, et al.)

asdf September 10, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Can anyone explain the weird periodicity in education employment? The graph seems to suggest that a similar amount of teachers are fired every winter and summer only to be rehired shortly after, except in Junior Colleges.

josh September 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Seasonal effects with the 9 or 10 month school year. Teachers have the summers off (typically) so they don’t show up in the CES during those months.

Jake September 10, 2011 at 12:40 pm

Just what is “state government education” vs. “local government education” There are 50 different states yet none I am aware of have centralized control of employment for teachers.

josh September 10, 2011 at 2:06 pm

state government education is normally 4 yr public schools while local government education is K-12 and community colleges. Your trade schools (ITT Tech, etc) should be in private education services.

John Personna September 10, 2011 at 12:44 pm

How should the data really be normalized? Per student?

agm September 10, 2011 at 12:52 pm

asdf,

The periodicty is summer break (big drops) and winter break (small drops halfway between big drops). Teachers in many places only have 9-month contracts, hence the big drop during the summer. Subs are probably accounted for somehow, leading to the smaller winter break drops, but I’m not really convinced that explains the small drops very well.

Rhp September 10, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I think the case for stimulus is the fact that you don’t see much of a recession – likely because the first stimulus heavily targeted education. States didn’t lay of many teachers because the received funds so they wouldn’t have to.

The rhetoric around teachers sometimes seems to focus on “everyone sharing the pain.” But in a land of finite resources, across-the-board cuts are never smart (though they may be politically astute). Obviously, I’m not trying to argue that teachers should be untouchable, but I am arguing that the service we are buying from their labor is phenomenally important (yes, more so than other state/local government functions), and the long-term social costs of elementary classes with 35+ kids (for example) are much steeper than the long-term costs of other kinds of cuts.

The other piece obscured in these numbers is that while employment may be flat, demand isn’t – the popupation of school-aged children is rising. You see the recession in the fact that the rise in the number of teachers hasn’t kept pace.

Al September 10, 2011 at 1:01 pm

I have several college friends in education.

For the past three years one has worked part time for a big box store and substitute teaches. Another substituted for a year, taught overseas for a year, and now gone back to school for accounting (given up).

I know several others who operate in this underemployed status working retail and substitute teach. I’m certain none of them count towards unemployment in education. I suspect but have no data that education has a much larger population of part time workers who would like to be full time.

rjs September 10, 2011 at 1:02 pm

here’s a pretty substantial litany of teacher layoffs by district from the first quarter of this year:

http://marketwatch666.blogspot.com/2011/04/crisis-in-us-public-education.html

John Thacker September 10, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Ah, so you’re a big supporter of the Wisconsin reform to collective bargaining, since that resulted in a litany of Wisconsin school districts hiring more teachers or avoiding planned layoffs, right?

Frank Howland September 10, 2011 at 1:13 pm

(1) As Tyler points out, the BLS graph shows “a strong seasonal trend which may confound some month-specific citations.” That knocks out the first assertion by his first source, Bruce Yandle, who tries to make it appear that hiring is up a lot when employment is always much lower in August than during the school year. Professor Yandle further discredits himself with his mixing together of health and education unemployment rates.
(2) Disaggregating the data is clearly important, as there are separate forces affecting college and universities versus elementary and secondary education and state versus local. For example, while K-12 enrollments fell by 0.85% from 2007 to 2009, college enrollments rose by 10% during the same time period. (See http://www.census.gov/hhes/school/data/cps/historical/index.html)
(3) Tyler’s second source, which is oddly out of date, raises the issue of lags in the response of different levels of government and different sectors of the economy to the recession. This is an interesting issue.
(4) I looked quickly through the transcript of Obama’s speech and it seems a fair reading to say that by teachers he meant elementary and secondary school teachers in public schools. Thus the stuff about state employees and college and university employees in this post seems irrelevant to the final point that Tyler makes.
(5) What is relevant to discussion of the Obama proposal is that employment in local government education appears to have continued rising up to Fall, 2009 and it has fallen since by about 200,000 jobs roughly since the peak in about May 2009 (using series CEU9093161101–not seasonally adjusted–from http://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/dsrv), or about 2.5%.

josh September 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

My question is where is that +1million number coming from? Looking at the BLS site for CES, local government education, seasonally adjusted, I get the following numbers:

Aug 08: 8103.3m
Aug 09: 8059.8m
Aug 10: 8004.1m
Aug 11: 7810.1m

Looks like a downward path to me. As for state government education it can all be tied back to higher education demand. Here is something from my state, Oregon, regarding state employment. Check out the huge increase in 4 yr institutions’ enrollment.

http://oregoneconomicanalysis.wordpress.com/2011/07/21/state-education-employment/

TallDave September 10, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Even worse, education dollars appear to be a very bad marginal investment — we’ve doubled spending since 1979 but NAEP scores hvaen’t budget an inch. And in higher ed, tuition inflation is even worse — it’s a subsidy run amok.

This massive misallocation of resources has to have had a negative impact on our national productivity.

Jake September 11, 2011 at 9:43 am

Multiple choice tests are obviously the ‘only’ way to measure education. And we certainly shouldn’t spend American tax dollars to educate Americans, that’s a subsidy. Think how well educated citizens will be if we spend zero.

Eric Rasmusen September 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm

One reason we should expect employment of K-12 teachers to fall during a recession is that union wage contracts are sticky. In my school district, the government was contractually obliged to give raises during this period, regardless of the low inflation level or tax revenue growth. Thus, a financial crisis was automatic and without tax revenue rising more than inflation, teacher employment had to be cut. This is one industry where we could inflate our way out of unemployment.

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