Someone Calculated How Many Adjunct Professors Are on Public Assistance, and the Number Is Startling

Once in a while, someone publishes an article about adjunct professors who resort to food stamps in order to survive on the rock-bottom pay that so many college instructors are expected to live on. But until today, I had never seen a statistic summing up how many academics are actually resorting to government aid. The number, it turns out, is rather large. According to an analysis of census data by the University of California–Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education, 25 percent of “part-time college faculty” and their families now receive some sort public assistance, such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps, cash welfare, or the Earned Income Tax Credit. For what it’s worth, that’s not quite so bad as the situation faced by fast-food employees and home health care aids, roughly half of whom get government help. But, in case there were any doubt, an awful lot of Ph.D.s and master’s degree holders are basically working poor.

Low-Wage Occupations and Public Assistance Rates


UC–Berkeley’s Center for Labor Research and Education

I don’t think it would be quite accurate to say that 25 percent of all adjuncts are getting aid, since some do in fact have full-time jobs that would show up in the census as their occupation. Still, we’re talking about a large group of highly educated individuals. According to NBC News, which reported on some of the labor center’s data prior to publication, “families of close to 100,000 part-time faculty members are enrolled in public assistance programs.”

Despite their symbolic value, food stamps aren’t the most popular program among adjuncts. According to the NBC report (I haven’t been able to find these specific numbers published elsewhere), 7 percent of part-time faculty are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, 7 percent are signed up for Medicaid (though the number may be higher thanks to Obamacare’s expansion of the insurance program), and “one in five” receive the Earned Income Tax Credit, which boosts pay for low-wage workers.


Article from Slate/Moneybox

Jordan Weissmann is Slate‘s senior business and economics correspondent.