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What Percent of the US Population Do Teachers Comprise?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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According to the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, there are approximately 2.3 million teachers working at the elementary and middle school level in the US in 2008. When census information includes pre-schools, high schools, special education teachers and college instructors, the number climbs to approximately 6.1 million.

The total US population is more than 300 million. In estimated figures, this means that teachers comprise about 2% of the total population. There are about 76 million students enrolled in the country, representing a 1-to-12 ratio. This is rarely the ratio, however, since a fair share of jobs held by teachers may teach a smaller number of students. For example, a part-time college professor might teach only one class, or a special education teacher might teach only a handful of students.

It should be noted, however, that while the population of US students has doubled in the past few years, the population of US teachers has tripled. This leads some to suggest that there are too many. In fact, in some areas, it is extremely difficult to entice teachers to work.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teachers are also primarily female. The BLS found that 97.8% of those working in preschool and kindergarten are women, while females represent 54.9% of those at secondary schools, 49.2% of post secondary schools, and 86% of special education teachers. Many attribute a greater share of women to pay that is not enough in many parts of the country to support a family. Many female teachers do singly support a family on their salaries, however, though this remains challenging.

The average teacher in California, for example, may not make enough in salary to purchase a house in most areas of the state. Most in the more populated parts of California who are homeowners, are able to do this by combining earnings with that of a spouse. Urban area teachers may make the most, but have to compete with the higher costs of housing in most major cities. This means they seldom can be said to comfortably exist on their salaries.

Data also shows that 9.3% of elementary and middle school teachers are black, and 7.1% are Hispanic. The Asian community is even less represented, with 2.4% at this grade level being Asian. These figures draw concern since they are not in keeping with the racial makeup of the United States. Schools that are predominantly Hispanic or black might be lucky to have one or two teachers who are from their culture, and thus represent role models for a community.

Concern for lack of adequate cultural representation is especially great in urban areas where minority children living in poverty are more at risk for criminal behavior. With fewer teacher role models who are of the same culture, the attempt to join gangs or simply lose interest in school is more prevalent.

As we consider the significant role teachers play in shaping the future of our society, it's also important for educators themselves to find fulfillment and alignment in their career choice. Taking the best career test can be a valuable step for individuals considering the teaching profession. These tests can help prospective teachers understand their own strengths and preferences, ensuring that they are well-suited for the challenges and rewards of a career in education. For those already in the field, career tests can provide insights into areas of specialization or development that may enhance their professional journey.

Like all people, children need connections, community, and a sense of belonging. In neighborhoods predominated by one race, teachers of the same race may help provide a sense of community, which those of a different race may not provide. There are noted exceptions. Yet many hope to encourage more minorities to teach so minorities have more representation in education.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon991059 — On May 23, 2015

Even including the college positions, which I think are more in line with modes of capitalism than public education per se, 2 percent is an incredibly large chunk of the populace. I am surprised this stat isn't posited more often as a catalyst for interesting political and ideological dialogue.

By anon266376 — On May 05, 2012

The taxpayers oppose paying public school teachers enough to live on in places like New York City and San Francisco because they think their money is wasted as it is.

There's this public perception of teachers being immoral and molesting their students, thanks to the few cases of that nationwide that do make the news. Most states' teacher licensing procedures put a lot of obstacles between having your bachelor's degree and subject matter competence and showing ability to actually teach the material because there are so many issues involving dealing with kids with various behavior problems and their parents, not to mention race, language and cultural issues, that it seems that a teacher license, especially in math or the sciences, takes up a lot of unnecessary time and college tuition money on the part of the one who wants the license.

Bottom line is teacher education programs are post-bachelor's degree education which has to be paid for, and after one bachelor's there are no more Pell Grants and almost no grants whatsoever. Would-be teachers are hesitant these days to just drown in more student loans for however many years it will take and then come out with what, still "just" a bachelors? The teacher licensing programs take as long as or longer than getting a master's degree.

Add to that the fact that in California at least, even math teachers must be certified to teach "English learners." That's off-putting to anyone with a math or science major and a math teaching credential.

Should it be "about the kids"? Yes. Then why make it increasingly difficult to get licensed or credentialed to teach those kids whom it's supposed to be "about."

Also, as for certification through subject matter examination, in states which allow that, those resulting teacher licenses are "provisional" and only valid for one year to 5 years (depending on the state) and tend not to be renewable. You have to then find a school district that will hire you with a "provisional" license and work your way up to the next licensure level. Those school districts willing to hire teachers on "provisional" licenses are few and far between and these days all are on hiring freezes due to budget constraints. They also tend to be large, dangerous urban areas where the teachers' lives are in danger just going there, let alone teaching there - like parts of New York City and parts of Philadelphia, to name a few. You have a shortage of math and physics teachers because of this.

Math and physics majors tend not to want to risk getting shot on a daily basis - if they're not actually in the Armed Forces.

By anon128310 — On Nov 19, 2010

Anon, where do you get your info? Unions *do* advocate for teachers because that is their function. They are the teacher's union for God's sake.

But people who became teachers didn't do so to become rich and in the heart and mind of every teacher (and therefore every union member) is "what's best for the kids?" Always. I promise you this is the case.

Teachers unions are there to protect teachers and ensure they are treated fairly and compensated adequately. Ironically, having teachers unions protect teachers is one of the driving forces that have made the profession more appealing and therefore helps attract more talented people to the profession.

With the negativity towards teacher's unions in the news of late, I expect to soon see a teacher shortage and degrading quality in schools.

By the way, whoever said charter school teachers can't unionize, of course they can, and mark my words, eventually they will see the light and do just that.

By anon117362 — On Oct 10, 2010

The teacher's union needs to be disbanded. This union does not focus on the student needs or education, only on protecting teachers.

Why is the teacher's union 100 percent opposed to charter schools - which are shown in every non-biased survey to out-perform public schools? Because it weakens the union.

Why are unions 100 percent opposed to vouchers for poor students to get out of terrible public schools and into private schools, which have always out-performed public schools? It weakens the union. Why are unions opposed to home-schooling? No teachers to join the union.

It is sad that young college graduates move into teaching and are immediately exposed to the union and attitude that teachers should not be held accountable for their performance.

By surfNturf — On Oct 03, 2010

Greenweaver- I agree that New York City is very expensive and in markets like that the salary can limit the recruitment efforts of the school districts because it may be hard to make ends meet with that salary, but there are people who do.

I saw an Oprah show the other day about a Wall Street investment banker that decided to quit his lucrative job as an investment banker to teach elementary children how to read. It was an amazing story.

By GreenWeaver — On Oct 03, 2010

Oasis11-Teaching is a rewarding profession, but the way teachers are compensated seems a bit archaic and not attractive to those needing a higher salary.

Many areas of the country have a high cost of living and teachers need to be paid more to compensate for the additional costs. It is difficult to get someone to join the teaching profession in New York City when the average salary is substantially lower than most mid range career positions.

Earning $45,000 to $50,000 is not a lot of money in New York because everything is so expensive.

By oasis11 — On Oct 03, 2010

Cupcake15-I think that they should offer more teacher resources for teachers to encourage them to seek training in highly critical areas.

I know that they offer loan forgiveness programs up to a certain amount in Florida, but they should offer these teachers substantially higher pay in order to attract the most motivated candidates to the teaching profession.

By cupcake15 — On Oct 03, 2010

Sneakers41-I know that teacher certification has been made easier. Now those with a bachelor's degree are eligible to take a certification exam in an area that they have a degree in.

If they do not have a degree in the area that they would like to teach in, they will have to take about thirty credits in the area of concentration and take an additional set of teaching courses in lieu of the classroom internship requirement.

These courses allow the prospective teacher the opportunity to work in a classroom for a shorter amount of time. I think streamlining this process will actually encourage many people to go into the teaching field because many change careers and seek a job in this profession later in life.

By sneakers41 — On Oct 03, 2010

Subway11-Regardless if the teacher were one of the many elementary teachers, science teachers, music teachers or even art teachers, all teachers are paid based on their education and years or steps in education.

I think that more people would become teachers if the teacher’s salaries were higher. I also think that teachers that specialize in the math and science or special education fields should be paid more because these are critical shortage areas.

By subway11 — On Oct 03, 2010

Although 2% of the population is a small amount, many school districts across the country have stopped hiring teachers because of their budget shortfalls.

Teacher’s salaries generally range according to their education. Those with a bachelor’s degree usually start at about $35,000 a year, while those with a master's degree start with $38,000 a year, and those teachers with at doctorate start $40,000 a year.

The school teacher’s salary really depends on the size and location of the school district. Those located in larger school districts tend to earn higher salaries.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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