New Study Suggests Teachers Unions Reduce Students’ Earning and Job Prospects

Male students who grew up under 12 years of schooling in states requiring collective bargaining with teachers unions earned nearly $1,500 less per year.

If you’re male, going to a school in a place with strong teachers unions hurts your shot at a job and stunts your future salary, according to a new study presented this weekend. Researchers from Cornell University and the National Bureau of Economic Research explored the relationship this weekend at the American Economic Association’s annual meeting.

While women were only mildly affected, the results for men were staggering. Male students who grew up under 12 years of schooling in states requiring collective bargaining with teachers unions earned nearly $1,500 less per year, worked less hours, and were less likely to be employed, and were more likely to hold lower-skilled jobs than their counterparts in states without these laws. Given American education’s widespread collective bargaining status quo—over 33 states impose such “duty-to-bargain” laws, the results are highly troubling.

The report estimates public school collective bargaining laws earnings an annual $150 billion among males aged 35-49, almost 140 percent of the annual federal education budget. African-American and Hispanic men suffered the most from a full school career impacted by teachers unions, losing $3,650 per year and suffering a nearly 8 percent labor force participation drop. The study also indicates strong teachers unions left students with weaker results on cognitive reasoning assessments as well as those tracking reduced self-esteem and a sense of control over one’s life. As with the other results, men got the shortest end of the stick.

Among its various controls, the study tracked respondents by their birth year and state, accounting for variations in state policy and controlling for the impacts of initiatives like food stamps, the earned income tax credit rate, and school finance reforms. The study also found that influences such as historic “white flight,” social unrest, and whether students moved from their birth state did little to bias the results.

With over 60 percent of teachers working under union contracts across two-thirds of the 50 states, collective bargaining is and will remain a hot-button issue for years to come. Noisy fights to curtail public employee unions gripped Wisconsin, Indiana, Idaho, Tennessee and Michigan, where Right to Work forces eventually won out. Judicial challenges to teacher tenure in Vergara v. California and mandatory union dues in both Friedrichs v. CTA and the forthcoming Janus v. AFSCME show that the serious constitutional and political controversies around collective bargaining aren’t going anywhere soon.

It’s important to consider the complicated place of teachers unions and their historic opposition to increased educational options as we near National School Choice Week. This new evidence provides a sobering perspective that past collective bargaining has too often done more to help the adults of the education system at the expense of its kids.