Three most expensive cities for US teachers are in California

Vivian Ho in San Francisco
Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California is home to four of the five least affordable cities for teachers in the US, according to a new report.

A recent USA Today analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data ranked Santa Cruz, San Jose and San Francisco as the three least affordable, with Santa Rosa coming in fifth, after Honolulu.

The analysis measured affordability based on how much of a median teaching income went toward the median rent. In Santa Cruz, a beach town of multimillion-dollar oceanfront views, about 66% of a teacher’s income went toward rent. In San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, that figure was 64%. In San Francisco, the epicenter of the wealth boom that erupted from the tech industry, 62% of a teacher’s income went toward rent, while in wine country’s Santa Rosa, that figure came out to 53%.

In comparison, the most affordable city for teachers in the country was Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where 16% of a median teachering income went toward rent.

The findings will come as no surprise for anyone who has worked in education in the region over the past decade. “There’s an affordability crisis,” said Nguyen Weeks, communications director for United Educators of San Francisco. “Everybody in the education community is having a hard time not only living in San Francisco, but in the surrounding areas. As we see the cost of housing skyrocketing, we also see salaries not really reflecting what the cost of living is.”

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The result is high turnover. “Our district was having to hire 300 to 500 new teachers a year because of the crisis,” Weeks said.

Teachers who don’t leave are forced to commute hours each day, or work multiple jobs. Some of their union’s members travel into San Francisco from as far out as Antioch, at the farthest edge of the Bay Area, and even Fresno, almost 200 miles away.

Some cities are taking steps to address the issue. In San Francisco, voters passed a parcel tax in 2018 that would go toward staffing or increasing educator salaries. Educators received a 7% increase, and while that did not match the cost of living increase, Weeks has heard from some union members anecdotally about the difference it has made in their lives. One woman, who had been forced to supplement her income with part-time work at Starbucks, could finally afford to quit her second job, Weeks said.

Some school districts have turned to building affordable housing for teachers as a way to support their staff. San Francisco is set to break ground on a project next year, Weeks said. The San Jose Unified school district is considering converting nine potential schools into housing. Facebook has even waded into the issue, providing 22 local teachers with low-cost housing.

“What draws teachers here is the curriculum, the communities they want to serve and the approach of the district in addressing various student populations,” Weeks said. “It’s hard because educators could possibly go elsewhere and get $30,000, $40,000 more a year, but it may defeat the purpose they went into education for. It becomes a hard question for a lot of educators: what are they willing to sacrifice?”