Welcome to the Profit of Education website. Continuing the conversation begun in the book Profit of Education, we discuss the latest economic evidence on education reform.

Teacher employment in the Great Recession

Recent correspondence with Arthur McKee at the National Council on Teacher Quality brought up an interesting question: What happened to teacher unemployment in the Great Recession? I don’t think anyone has a for-sure answer, but I’ve cobbled together a bit of information.

First fact (from the Digest of Education Statistics): In the 2007-2008 school year (before the Great Recession) there were 3,405,000 public school teachers. In 2011-2012, after the end of the recession, the number had fallen to 3,385,000. That’s a drop of about half a percent.

Second fact, well factoid anyhow: I’ve put together a graph based on the American Community Survey of the fraction of teachers who report being unemployed or out of the labor force versus the same fraction for other college-educated workers. For reasons discussed below, take the graph with a grain of salt. What seems to have happened is that fewer teachers were out of work when the recession first hit, compared to other occupations. (The vertical line marks 2009.) Then a year or two later teachers continued to lose jobs while the market for other workers started to recover. That accords with my sense of what was going on with state budgets around then.


Now for a few caveats. This was a quick and dirty analysis, so there might be some gotchyas that I missed. You have to wonder about what exactly it means when someone both gives their profession and says they are “out of the labor force.” Moreover, the data source includes “unemployed” as once choice for occupation, which is coded separately from whether the interviewee says he’s unemployed or not. I excluded the “unemployed occupation” from the analysis since there’s no way of knowing whether the respondent’s regular occupation was teaching or something else. (Real world data is never straightforward.)

By the way, the data is from that great source of micro data on people, usa.ipums.org. The official citation is

Steven Ruggles, J. Trent Alexander, Katie Genadek, Ronald Goeken, Matthew B. Schroeder, and Matthew Sobek. Integrated Public Use Microdata Series: Version 5.0 [Machine-readable database]. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota Population Center [producer and distributor], 2010.
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9 Responses to Teacher employment in the Great Recession

  1. Jesse says:

    I think respondents are instructed to give the occupation of their last job if they are unemployed or out of the labor force. So in principle this should identify teachers who have been laid off, but it won’t capture those who just graduated from schools and never got jobs in the first place, which I think accounts for a very large part of teacher unemployment in the last few years. (Most other occupations aren’t tied quite so closely to the degree you earn.)

    A couple of other issues in interpreting this:
    – My guess is the high rate of out-of-the-labor-force reflects teachers who don’t work or look for work over the summer. I assume the underlying data here is the CPS; if so, it should be possible to exclude summer months.
    – If a teacher takes a summer job, then is not called back for the fall, she should report her occupation thereafter as whatever she did over the summer rather than as a teacher (since it refers to the previous job, not the self identity). I don’t know if that is fixable.
    – What is going on with the year 2000? Did teacher unemployment really shoot up in 2001 and stay very high thereafter? It seems unlikely — in 2005, people were talking about looming teacher shortages.

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