Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) 43rd Conference
March 15-17, 2018
Title: Understanding Teachers’ Economic Anxiety in a High Cost Urban District
Authors: Elise Dizon-Ross, Susanna Loeb, Emily Penner, Jane Rochmes
Certain professions—such as nurses, doctors, and teachers— have a unique role in our society in that they require not only high levels of education or specialized skills, but also that workers be well-distributed geographically, covering all states and types of regions. Although it is common to worry about the supply of such professionals in rural areas and low-income regions, less often considered is their supply in urban areas with extremely high costs of living—areas such as San Francisco, Washington D.C., and a growing list of other cities with high economic growth. Particularly for school teachers and others with middle-level incomes, very high costs of living may prevent their moving to or staying in an area. For those who do stay, these high costs may push people to take on lengthy commutes, accept suboptimal housing situations, and experience increasing levels of personal anxiety about their economic situation. This potential deterioration in quality of life affects not just teachers themselves but also those they teach. Despite growing attention to the problems of affordability, we know little about the experience of teachers in high cost areas and the effects it may have on students. This paper explores this topic in the context of San Francisco, using descriptive analysis of novel survey data. We find that teachers face considerably greater levels of economic anxiety than a national sample, that their levels of anxiety are more associated with specific characteristics of their financial situations than with their demographics or credentials, and that economic anxiety is predictive of both teachers’ plans to leave and their own attendance rates.
Our paper uses data from a 2016 online survey distributed to all teachers in San Francisco Unified School District, yielding 2,252 respondents. The survey included a section of questions related to teachers’ financial insecurity and sense of economic wellbeing, many of which were adapted from a nationally representative Marketplace/Edison Research survey released in February of the same year that provides a basis of comparison (Marketplace 2016; Shaw 2016). Teachers responded to three questions in particular that we treat as primary measures of economic anxiety. The first asks teachers to assess how anxious their financial situation makes them feel, the second asks how easy or difficult it is for teachers to pay their rent or mortgage each month, and the third asks teachers how difficult it would be for them to pay an unexpected expense of one thousand dollars.
Additional survey questions have teachers describe more concrete characteristics of their financial situations, such as their living arrangements, their commute, sources of income, and financial responsibilities. We also use data from questions assessing teachers’ family background and their potential social support network. We link the survey data with district administrative data, which includes demographic and qualification data, information about teachers’ schools and classrooms, and teacher absences.
Our descriptive analysis uses regression models to describe the relationships between teachers’ experience of economic anxiety and markers of financial insecurity. More specifically, our analyses address the following research questions:
1. How does the economic anxiety of teachers compare to the national average?
2. Are certain types of teachers (for example, by race, or by characteristics of the students they teach) more likely to be economically anxious?
3. Are teachers’ financial situations and access to support networks predictive of their economic anxiety?
4. Is economic anxiety associated with indications of teacher retention and performance?
Our results show that our sample of teachers has considerably more economic anxiety than the national average and that, with the exception of teachers’ age, their demographic information, credentials, and school characteristics are largely unrelated to their economic distress. However, specific aspects of teachers’ financial situations and their family and potential support networks are predictive of their economic anxiety, indicating that there are certain subgroups of the teaching workforce who are struggling more than others in this high cost district. Moreover, teachers’ economic anxiety is linked to having a lower regard for teaching, more likely plans for resignation, and worse attendance. These findings shed light on just one of the ways in which the affordability crisis affecting many urban areas impacts the education sector and the quality of education that schools can provide their students, as well as informs larger discussions about teacher recruitment and retention.