Forbes’s annual list of Worst Financial Mistakes was released Thursday and among the usual suspects, several new items were added to the most common monetary blunders made by Americans. Payday Loans and Tax Evasion have held the #1 and #2 spots respectively for over five years, but this marks the first year that “Being a Teacher” has broken into the top three.
Forbes’s editors were quick to note that the K-12 teacher occupation has always been included in their extended list of worst financial mistakes since it was first compiled in 1992, but the category has continued to gain ground against other poor economic decisions since at least 2004. State governments’ relentless quest to mortgage their future in favor of tax cuts and incentivizing datacenter developments has pushed many educator salaries below the poverty line. Combined with the crippling debt many educators must acquire to enter the profession, “being a teacher” is now easily one of the worst financial mistakes one can make.
Despite the clear and present danger that being a teacher poses to one’s mental and financial well-being, many college graduates are still being sucked into the profession with empty promises of “wanting to inspire children” and “being the change they wish to see in the world.” If the last 50 years of economic data are to be believed, these qualities are decidedly undesired in the marketplace, and trying to sell these services has lead hundreds of thousands of American college graduates to fiscal ruin.
Dr. Louis Vernon, who studies post-college career trajectories at the Brown School of Sociology likens teaching to the “worst multi-level marketing scheme” he can imagine. He even goes so far as to say that becoming a teacher is “orders of magnitude” worse than selling Amway and has surpassed joining even Scientology when it comes to bad life choices.
“Throughout school, students often look up to their teachers as role models,” Dr. Vernon said, “and that is an extremely dangerous situation. Many kids start admiring the adults that actually show them kindness and patience, but what they don’t see is the nearly universal alcoholism, the hours of despair begging god for another chance, or even the used Kia in the driveway. The system doesn’t frankly admit the fact that most of these kids’ teachers have a lower net worth than the average sixth grader.”
The response to COVID-19 had initially raised hopes for many teachers that their tireless efforts to support the country’s education would finally be rewarded. At the start of the pandemic, many talk show hosts and social-media influencers commented that teachers’ salaries should be increased once forced-homeschooling taught parents that educating children is a lot more difficult than simply playing Khan Academy videos and printing out word searches. These hopes were dashed however when further into the pandemic parents started to turn on teachers for being unwilling to risk their lives to go back to providing free childcare for their children.
Being a Teacher beat out other major financial mistakes such as claiming bankruptcy, divorce, and betting your life savings on GameStop. On average, these missteps are estimated to cost people upwards of $250,000 of lost wealth throughout their lifetimes. Nevertheless, being a teacher is now shown in most states to cost upwards of $350,000 in lost wages throughout one’s career.