Illinois extended unemployment benefits to school workers in the summer, and Minnesota should follow suit


Illinois extended unemployment benefits to school workers in the summer, and Minnesota should follow suit

5 Dec 2021

For over a decade, EPI has documented the significant pay penalty that teachers in our country’s K-12 schools suffer as a result of woeful underinvestment in public education. But it is not just teachers who have been underappreciated: Many other school staff who are essential for providing high-quality, safe, and nurturing learning environments face considerable financial challenges as a result of their decision to serve in public schools. Paraprofessionals, classroom assistants, administrative assistants, custodians, food service workers, bus drivers, and other nonlicensed staff in schools typically receive low pay and inadequate hours during the school year, and no employment from school districts over the summer months—meaning a potential loss of 10 or 11 weeks of paid employment. In 2020, Illinois took an important step toward fixing this last issue, by making nonlicensed school staff eligible for unemployment insurance during the summer months. Illinois’s experience offers guidance for other states considering similar programs, like in Minnesota where a similar measure is currently under debate. We’ll discuss the Illinois experience later on, but first it’s useful to understand a little more about who nonlicensed school staff are and the pay they receive. Many nonlicensed school staff are paid very little. A 2018 study by the American Federation of Teachers showed there was not a single state in the country where the average wages of a classroom teaching assistant covered a basic family budget for a one-parent, one-child household. As shown in Figure A, workers in the most common nonlicensed education occupations1 are paid less than the typical U.S. worker, whose median wage is $19.38 nationally. Janitors and cleaners, child care workers, and food service workers who work in K-12 education are all typically paid less than $15 an hour. In addition to frequently low hourly rates of pay, many nonlicensed staff may only be on the clock for the hours that school is in session.2 Figure A In many occupations, nonlicensed school employees are paid less than the typical worker : Real median annual wages of the overall workforce and selected nonlicensed education occupations (2020$) Occupation Real median wages Overall workforce $19.38 Secretaries, administrative assistants, and office clerks $17.99 Bus drivers $15.58 Teacher assistants $15.34 Janitors and building cleaners $14.25 Childcare workers $12.39 Food preparation and service $12.24 Chart Data Download data The data below can be saved or copied directly into Excel. The data underlying the figure. Source: EPI Analysis of 2017–2019 pooled CPS microdata
education unemployment insurance jobs and unemployment


Julia Wolfe, Dave Kamper

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