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Report: 40% of Contingent and Adjunct Faculty Have Trouble Affording Basic Expenses

As much as 40% of adjunct and contingent faculty at two- and four-year colleges and universities have trouble affording basic household expenses, says a new report that surveyed more than 3,000 such instructors in May-June last year.

Randi WeingartenRandi Weingarten

The report by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), released Monday, further said that a third of survey respondents earn less than $25,000 annually, which puts them below the federal poverty guideline for a family of four.

The federation has 240,000 higher education members, of whom 85,000 are contingent and 35,000 are graduate employees. The group surveyed 3,076 members in 2019 between May 22 and June 30.

“The report illustrates how precarious academic work was even before the coronavirus pandemic, which has made a grave situation even worse,” write the authors of An Army of Temps: AFT 2020 Adjunct Faculty Quality of Work/Life Report. “Now, they face summer and fall semesters in which enrollment — and therefore their jobs — are in doubt.”

The report said that many contingent and adjunct faculty were already struggling with food insecurity, limited health coverage and housing issues. And the campus closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, starting in March this year, have made their living situation even more precarious.

Of those the AFT surveyed, only 15% of respondents said they are able to comfortably cover basic monthly expenses; fewer than half said they have access to employer-provided health insurance, with close to 20% saying they rely on Medicaid; and about 45% said they have put off getting needed health care. Further, 41% said they struggle with job security, reporting that they don’t know if they will have a teaching job until one month before the beginning of the academic year, and three out of four contingent faculty said they are guaranteed employment only from term to term. As for a plan for a secure retirement, a big chunk, that is, 37% of those surveyed, said they don’t see the possibility of charting such a path.

“This survey paints a vivid portrait of the economic insecurity of adjunct faculty,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten, in a statement. “Adjuncts anchor their institutions’ instructional work, yet so many are living hand to mouth. It’s sickening, especially when the administrators who employ them continue to rake in record salaries.”

In a scenario like the current coronavirus pandemic, even the semester-to-semester plans of contingent and academic faculty are laid to waste, said Weingarten.

Over the last four decades, the academic labor pool has shifted dramatically, said the federation. About 40 years ago, 70% of academic employees were tenured or tenure track. Today, 75% of faculty are not eligible for tenure and 47% hold part-time positions. That means a disproportionate number of faculty are insecure, and the survey reflects that.

“It’s no surprise that adjuncts are fighting back through their unions for voice, respect, job security, proper benefits and higher wages. This is a funding issue as well, which is why the AFT is fighting for federal funds for state and local governments to invest in higher education,” said Weingarten.

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