Investigating the costs of living as compared to teachers’ wages in the Bay Area

Annie Liu

Staff Writer

    Throughout FUSD, teachers began work-to-rule in January as a form of protest regarding their requests for higher wages. In work-to-rule, teachers work only during their contracted hours and do not provide any additional assistance to students. The teachers argue that current salaries are not enough to sustain the inflated costs of living in the Bay Area and are asking the district for a raise in their salaries. With many data and numbers floating around, it can be difficult to understand the situation, but the statistics generally break down as follows.

    According to a report by KTVU, the beginning salary for new teachers in Fremont is roughly $65,000 per year. This places FUSD as the highest paying district out of the 15 Alameda County districts and the fifth highest paying district out of a total of 102 in the Bay Area. The average salary amongst all teachers in Fremont is estimated to be $89,000 per year, and the end salary is $114,000 per year.

    How do FUSD salaries compare to the teachers’ living expenses? The Bay Area is one of the costliest locations in the United States in terms of living expenses, with a cost of living that is 81% higher than the national average, according to PayScale.com. It is virtually impossible to provide an exact calculation of living expenses, as every teacher’s situation is different due to a variety of factors, some of which include number of family members, the salary of a spouse, or size of home. However, a general summary of typical expenses constitutes of the following.

    Housing is one of the most significant expenses. According to Rent Jungle, the average cost of renting an apartment in Fremont as of January 2019 is $2,437 per month. This translates to a total of $29,244 per year spent on rent, which already amounts to roughly 45% of the total income per year for a new teacher in Fremont. Rent Jungle also claims that the average apartment rent within ten miles of San Francisco is $3,772 per month, which is $45,264 annually.

    Utilities and basic necessities also constitute a major percentage of teachers’ wages. According to the US Energy Information Administration, Californians pay $91.26 on average per month for utilities. This translates to a cost of $1,095.12 per year spent on utility bills. As for Internet, according to Numbeo.com, the average Internet bill is $62.17 per month, or $746.04 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey in 2016, an average American household spends $7,023 on food in a year. The survey also found that the average American spends $1,803 on clothing each year. When these costs are added together, they total around $10,667.16, or 16.4% of a starting teacher’s salary in FUSD.

    Transportation is another category of expenses. A 2015 study by ValuePenguin found that the average California monthly car insurance premium is $164, meaning that the average annual rate would be $1,968. In addition, GasBuddy.com reports that the average cost of gasoline in California is $2.84 per gallon. In 2015, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that Americans used a total of roughly 140.43 billion gallons of gasoline that year, and in 2014, Statista reported that there were a total of 214 million drivers in the United States, meaning that when 140.43 billion gallons is divided by 214 million drivers, each driver in the United States uses around 656 gallons of gasoline per year. Multiplying this by the average cost of a gallon results in $1863.04 spent on gasoline per year. In addition, some teachers’ commutes may involve having to cross toll bridges. In the Bay Area, all major bridges cost $6 to cross, with the exception of the Golden Gate Bridge, which costs $8 ($7 with Fastrak). Paying $6 every day for a total of 180 school days adds up to $1,080 per year spent on bridge tolls. Combined with car insurance and gasoline, the total transportation cost per year comes out to a total of $4,911.04, which amounts to 7.6% of a starting teacher’s salary.

    Health benefits are another expense that is not covered by FUSD. Fremont science teacher Lane Melcic told KTVU that teachers must pay for health benefits on their own. Currently, $2,000 dollars are taken out of Melcic’s paycheck each month in order to pay for medical insurance. This translates to $24,000 per year, or 36.9% of a starting teacher’s salary.

    Taxes are also a major component of teachers’ expenses. Let’s look at tax rates for a teacher whose taxable income is $65,000 annually. In California, the state income tax rate for single individuals who fall within the tax bracket of $53,980.00 and over but below $275,738.00 is as high as 9.3%. For a teacher who is married and filing his or her taxes jointly, the state income tax rate is as high as 6%. For federal taxes, a single starting teacher’s tax rate is as high as 22%, whereas a married teacher filing jointly faces a tax rate of up to 12%.

    Adding together the percentages from each section of expenses, the total percentage comes out to be 105.9%, excluding taxes—meaning that these expenses already exceed the current starting salary for teachers in FUSD. In addition, many teachers face student debt from university, with the average student debt in California being $22,744. This only worsens the situation and presents an additional cost of living, especially for younger teachers who have not paid off their debt yet. It is also important to recognize that the above calculations were based on the bare necessities of living, but that expenses can also come from a variety of other miscellaneous sources, including money spent on entertainment, gifts, and professional organization membership fees, to name a few. These expenses can add up rapidly and present yet another financial hurdle for teachers.

    With this information in mind, teachers throughout the Fremont Unified School District are faced with a very delicate situation in terms of paying all of their expenses and balancing that with their salaries. Although it may be an inconvenience, work-to-rule is part of the teachers’ fight for higher wages so that they are able to continue to sustain themselves in the unforgiving economic conditions of the Bay Area.

Caption: Monetary and financial stability is becoming more and more of a challenge to teachers throughout the Fremont Unified School District as they are faced with balancing their low salaries with the unusually high costs of living in the Bay Area. Their fight for higher wages is currently reflected in the work-to-rule protest, in which teachers only work during their contracted hours in an effort to demonstrate the importance of teachers’ contributions and sacrifices to their schools every day.

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