Slowly Increasing Teachers' Earnings. Chart by Keith Rankin.
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Chart analysis by Keith Rankin.

This month’s chart uses a correctly proportioned (logarithmic) scale to compare the growth of the average hourly price of labour in Education/Training and miscellaneous Professional Services with wage growth across ‘all industries’ (bearing in mind that most workers are employed in service ‘industries’).

We should relate this to my June Chart (The Future of Work?) and commentary, and with David Graeber’s analysis in mind (Why bullshit jobs are booming [Radio New Zealand], and On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs [Strike, 2013]). We note in particular that, while ‘bullshit jobs’ can be found in all industries – and there are signs that employment in many service occupations is being subject to a process of bullshitisation – Graeber’s bullshit jobs are heavily concentrated in the rapidly growing ‘Professional, Scientific, Technical, Administrative and Support Services’ industry. (This is the PSTAS – or ‘pissed as’ – sector.)

In this month’s chart, we see gridlines labelled ‘500’ and ‘1000’. The ‘1000’ represents a doubling of nominal (ie not inflation-adjusted) hourly earnings. Thus we can see that average hourly earnings doubled between 1989 and 2010. Likewise, they doubled between 1995 and 2018. (The increase from one gridline to the next is about 26 percent. Three gridlines represent a 100% compounded increase.)

In education, hourly wages barely grew in the early 1990s – the years of Ruthanasia, which culminated in the passing of 1994 Fiscal Responsibility Act. Public sector expenditure was ruthlessly (or ‘Ruthfully’?) suppressed at a time when official unemployment reached 11 percent and actual unemployment was double that. However, education wages did catch up in the decade after 1995 – the decade in which the international education industry grew very rapidly in New Zealand.

It was after 2009 that education wages started to fall behind again. In a couple of years in the middle of this decade, education wage growth was basically nil while some PSTAS workers experienced large earnings’ increases.

It is certainly true that education workers need a pay catch-up, and by more than the chart suggests.

Average hourly earnings is influenced by the average experience in the teaching workforce, and by the changing mix between teaching and management staff. As the teaching profession has aged, teachers’ average hourly wages have increased by much more than new-teacher wage rates. (The opposite applies to PSTAS remuneration, as the many new entrants bring down the industry average.)

Further, many people employed in the last five years within the education industry have been managers on six-figure salaries (many doing jobs that fit Graeber’s definition of “bullshit jobs” – jobs the performance of which does not augment social or economic well-being). The industry average earnings growth will have overstated the earnings’ growth of teachers, especially during the 2016 wage spurt.

One of the biggest problems that teachers face was well expressed in the well-received (in Australia) ABC Teaching Special Q+A television program (8 October 2018; downloadable; transcript available) was ‘demoralisation’. Demoralisation relates to incremental though persistent increases in the (essentially bureaucratic) non-teaching workload that teachers face (as in ‘if the students would only go away I would be able to do the work I am required to prioritise’). Essentially this unnecessary work overload is the ‘bullshitisation’ of the teaching profession, and is the deep underlying cause of teachers’ frustration.

More-and-more of teachers’ work is coming to resemble the work done in ‘bullshit jobs’. It means teachers are doing evermore work in total; overtime work they are not getting paid for. If we divide teachers’ salaries by the actual amounts of work they are expected to do, then the average hourly rate of teacher remuneration has been falling. Economists would say that the increased underpricing of teachers’ labour is the root cause of the shortage of teachers and trainee teachers. Add in excessive housing costs, and you have a profession in crisis. This is not a crisis that can be resolved through willful ignorance.