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Adjunct professors are officially the new working poor
More than half of all welfare recipients (56 percent) rely on government assistance because their job doesnt pay enough, not because of unemployment. And adjunct professors are high on the list. - photo by JJ Feinauer
More than half of all welfare recipients (56 percent) rely on government assistance because their job doesnt pay enough, not because they're unemployed, according to a new study released by the University of California, Berkeley.

Over 50 percent of fast-food workers rely on welfare to get by, according to the Berkeley study. Child-care workers and home-care workers arent far behind.

But one of the more surprising statistics, one that has drawn renewed attention to the pay grade of higher-ed employees, is that 25 percent of part-time college faculty are on some sort of government assistance.

The suffering wages of adjunct professors also came to the forefront when the American Association of University Professors reported that adjuncts are paid, on average, $2,700 per three-credit course, which typically comes to $16,200 per year.

These instructors often take on second jobs and do summer work, the Deseret News Nationals Lane Anderson wrote last August. But even teaching eight courses a year far more than most tenured professors teach they will only bring in about $21,000 a year.

According to Slates Jordan Weissmann, its not just the reminder that adjuncts dont get paid much that rattles the brain, its realizing how many of them turn to government assistance, despite their education level.

I had never seen a statistic summing up how many academics are actually resorting to government aid, he wrote in reaction to the study. In case there were any doubt, an awful lot of Ph.D.s and master's degree holders are basically working poor.

The Berkeley study also plays into what is arguably the most important economic issue leading into the 2016 presidential election cycle: The state of American wages.

During the economic rebound of the past few years, its become clear that despite the rise in jobs numbers, wages remain stagnant.

"Even though unemployment in America has dropped from a peak of 10 percent in late 2009 to 6.2 percent," The Economist wrote last year, "growth in even nominal wages (ie, not adjusted for inflation) is tame."

Because of this, there has been an increasing pressure to raise the minimum wage in hopes of boosting income, with some businesses and local governments grabbing headlines for their income-raising measures.

In fact, the Berkeley study suggests that the trend of low wages is a costly one, not only to the well-being of workers, but to the state as well. The researchers found that from 2009 to 2011, federal and local governments spent $152.8 billion per year on welfare programs for working families.

While many advocates argue that such data proves the necessity of these welfare programs, there are those who argue the welfare subsidies are part of the problem, not the solution, to stalled wages.

The reality is that low-wage employers compete with income-support programs for the time of workers, American Action Forums Douglas Holtz-Eakin wrote earlier this month. Those programs may contribute to pricing low-skilled workers out of jobs and increasing the incentive to substitute modernization and technologies.

But most debates over minimum wage and welfare programs for the working poor remain centered around the needs of fast-food workers, which seem to make it all the more difficult to understand the struggle of the new working poor class of adjunct professors. It's a class that would see little to no change by an increased minimum wage.

According to NPR, more than three-fourths of college professors are adjunct, largely because institutions save a lot of money when they replace full-time, tenured faculty with itinerant teachers.
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