In 2010, I earned a Ph.D. in theology. Within a year, I was on food stamps. I'm not alone. According to the latest records, there are 33, 655 people in my position.
In my case, the issue has been one of trying to break into a teaching profession. I recently signed up for a sequence of classes in professional editing because I'm not seeing it as a wise move to keep putting off work that actually pays to do the things I need to do to get a teaching job (I've been doing informal editing work to keep a roof over my head, which I'm now supplementing with petsitting - in the meantime, I have a few research projects to finish up). I've applied to private high schools and community colleges, everywhere the door is shut.
But, let's say I get that teaching position. The likelihood is that my financial situation would not change....
The Chronicle of Higher Education recently featured an article, From Graduate School to Food Stamps, on adjunct labor that begins
"I am not a welfare queen," says Melissa Bruninga-Matteau.According to a recent Al Jazeera article by Sarah Kendzior, 67 per cent of University Instructors are adjunct teachers. As Kendzior says, this trend is a symptom of the end of higher education as a path to prosperity in general, not just for those who wish to pursue academic research and teaching.
That's how she feels compelled to start a conversation about how she, a white woman with a Ph.D. in medieval history and an adjunct professor, came to rely on food stamps and Medicaid. Ms. Bruninga-Matteau, a 43-year-old single mother who teaches two humanities courses at Yavapai College, in Prescott, Ariz., says the stereotype of the people receiving such aid does not reflect reality. Recipients include growing numbers of people like her, the highly educated, whose advanced degrees have not insulated them from financial hardship.
"I find it horrifying that someone who stands in front of college classes and teaches is on welfare," she says.
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course - literally. Teaching is touted as a "calling", with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the "opportunity" to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position "Senior Teaching Assistant" because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.The Joshua Foust article on the internization of labor states
But all Americans should be concerned about adjuncts, and not only because adjuncts are the ones teaching our youth. The adjunct problem is emblematic of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity, and the severing of opportunity to all but the most privileged.
In a searing commentary, political analyst Joshua Foust notes that the unpaid internships that were once limited to show business have now spread to nearly every industry. "It's almost impossible to get a job working on policy in this town without an unpaid internship," he writes from Washington DC, one of the most expensive cities in the country. Even law, once a safety net for American strivers, is now a profession where jobs pay as little as $10,000 a year - unfeasible for all but the wealthy, and devastating for those who have invested more than $100,000 into their degrees. One after another, the occupations that shape American society are becoming impossible for all but the most elite to enter.
Still, the internization of America’s college graduates should prompt us to ask: If going to college doesn’t improve your job prospects, why bother going? And what does it mean when access to government jobs is increasingly limited only to those applicants who can count on their families for financial support?In an earlier diary, I tried to sort out the tension between having a sense of vocation and the realities of the job market. It looks like the job market is winning, which is what happens when society makes the market its God.