Flexible Jobs Mean Less Money

Yesterday, there were several stories in the MSM about how 40 percent of women are the primary breadwinners in their families.

Womensearnings Meanwhile, Ezra Klein posted a nice graph from the Shriver Report comparing incomes between husbands and wives. While there is much greater parity today than there was in 1967, it does show that only 31.8 percent of women with kids under the age of 6 make as much as or more than their spouses. And 62 percent of all mothers make less than their husbands.

As my smart friend, Melissa, pointed out in an e-mail to me, this is because women usually have to take a flexible job, which pays less.

I've been toying with the idea of taking an adjunct position, because I'm missing the classroom so much. It's not really a good plan; it would be much better for me to finish my writing projects at home. There's more potential for me there, than teaching one class at a community college for 2 grand a semester. The Chronicle has a series on adjuncts. One of their findings is that many people take those crappy positions, so they have can be available to their families. 82 percent make less than $20,000 per year, even though they have advanced degrees.

I'm not really sure if pay parity is all that important. It's not a competition. However, it is problematic if employers are taking advantage of women who have few options.

32 thoughts on “Flexible Jobs Mean Less Money

  1. I’m not sure how many classes are full-time at a community college, but lets say 5 a semester. So, the full-time equivalent salary would be $20,000. Let’s say $25,000 if you were teaching in the summer. If you figure benefits, I think Starbucks pays better. Unless teaching is so inherently rewarding you’d do it for free or is such a good for society that you can count it as charity work, I don’t think that it would be adviseable to take the position baring some kind of concrete assurance that it is something of a trail run for permanent employment.
    In my unsolicited opinion, I think you’d be better organizing adjuncts to refuse to take a position at a salary that assumes you have parents, a spouse or a credit card to give you enough to live.

  2. I’ve been toying with the adjunct idea as well, but the pay is sooooo bad. The going rate is about $3k per class, no benefits, of course. Most of the places that have these jobs are at least 1/2 commute for me, and of course, I might not be able to pick my class times. So I could end up with a class right when I need to retrieve kids or something. My experience adjuncting here is that you often don’t find out when your class is until the very last minute and it’s hard to say no when doing so might put you on the “don’t ever hire her again because she will leave you in the lurch 2 days before classes begin” list. I’ve seen a couple of full-time positions in my area but they are 4-5 classes per semester and I’d have to send my stuff in *now*. I don’t really want to make any decisions about next fall now. I want to see how the spring shakes out. I’ve seen a couple of part-time jobs, but many of them I’m either unqualified for or really, really uninterested. So, gah. I’d like some extra income, but not full time yet, and there’s not much to choose from in the part-time world. Sucks all the way around.

  3. Adjuncting is a wretched deal all around. It’s depressing to think my pay as a graduate teaching assistant ten years ago (about 4K a section with health insurance) was BETTER than what grownup professors get now.
    Technical writing has been relatively good for me. Good pay and no one is expecting me to write a book in my spare time.

  4. ” Unless teaching is so inherently rewarding you’d do it for free or is such a good for society that you can count it as charity work,”
    Didn’t Laura start her post by saying how rewarding the experience is, as one of her prime motivations? I think there’s a market issue involved here, that affects other professions as well. There are enough people out there, who find the experience rewarding enough that they’re willing to do it for very little money. The ones who are being lied to (or are lying to themselves), who believe that it will lead somewhere that’s not highly likely to work out, well they need to re-think.
    But, the person who is willing to take starbuck’s pay because they’d rather teach than serve coffee? well, doesn’t that make sense? They’re letting their skill be bought for more rewarding work, rather than pay.
    I think this is a “problem” that’s not going to go away (and is affecting writing and journalism and photography as well as other activities that people do find inherently rewarding).
    I sometimes feel like we’re heading towards a world where people will only get paid for the stuff that’s not rewarding or where they’re irreplaceable.

  5. There are enough people out there, who find the experience rewarding enough that they’re willing to do it for very little money.
    That reminds me of Scott Adams’s reasoning for assuming that everyone who works in a shoe store has a foot fetish.
    As I see it, the problem with adjunct pay (from a societal perspective) is that if enough people in a profession are willing to do the work regardless of whether or not they are paid enough to support themselves, this puts a great deal of downward pressure on wages for everybody. Without some sort of counteracting force, eventually the profession will lose status as everybody will be steering their kids into a line of work that can provide a better salary.

  6. ” Without some sort of counteracting force, eventually the profession will lose status as everybody will be steering their kids into a line of work that can provide a better salary. ”
    Well, you’re talking about unions, that’s what they were founded on, collective action to prevent devaluing of the work. Without them, I think university employment is becoming something akin to becoming a musician in an orchestra or a working actor (though not necessarily a star) or a published author. The employee bears most of the risk, a few individuals succeed in making a living wage. The rest donate their service for low or no pay, or leave the profession.
    And even though I’m generally pro-union, I don’t think that collective action (or individual action, in the form of Laura refusing to teach) is going to stop the trend.

  7. Just to be clear, I think the responsibility to fix this is on the universities and colleges. But, they have an oligopsony going (or, a monopsony if you are unable to move and in a lightly populated area), so I don’t expect much there.

  8. Welcome to Hollywood, folks. Most people who work in Hollywood are financed by wealthy parents, in my experience. Wages are horrible unless you get into a union, and even then, not always great.
    The reason why is because working in Hollywood is a high status job with rewards that extend beyond the pay (serving coffee to George Clooney! Holding Paris Hilton’s dog during a cover shoot!).

  9. I sometimes feel like we’re heading towards a world where people will only get paid for the stuff that’s not rewarding or where they’re irreplaceable.
    I think bj’s on to something. I work in software — a job that many, many people just do not like. And even within software there’s definitely a correlation between “not cool” and “high pay”. Witness how ill-paid game developers are, and of course all the iPhone app people who are developing essentially on spec, with nothing but the hope of income in the future. Contrast that with the DBA supporting your company’s accounting system, or your typical supply chain consultant.

  10. Well, Hollywood, at least as far a the ‘talent’ goes, doesn’t require 4+ years of specialized training. You can try it, fail and leave in a couple of years.

  11. So, colleges are increasingly relying on adjuncts, who get paid virtually nothing? How does this jive with the astronomical increase in tuition prices? I took an expensive history class at a Big Ten university and was pretty annoyed that it was taught by a PhD student who showed up half-asleep and held the required “open office hours” at a bar.

  12. I was a Ph.D. student teaching a class at a Big Ten university. I never held office hours in a bar. In my defense, I never knew it was an option.

  13. “How does this jive with the astronomical increase in tuition prices?”
    A decrease in state subsidy of public universities (including the Big Ten) plays a significant role (in the increasing tuition at public universities). State funding for the public universities in WA state went down by nearly 25% this last biennium.
    I was surprised recently to see how expensive in-state tuition at public law schools is.

  14. MH:
    Where should universities get the money to fix the adjunct problem (i.e. a pittance wage paid to their employees)? Do they pay adjuncts more? Demand more teaching from tenured/full-time faculty? Educate fewer students/have fewer classes? Campaign for federal and state subsidies (as a one coalition recently has, aiming at direct federal funding for public universities)? Raise tuition?

  15. I’m personally annoyed by adjuncts who will take the crap pay because it’s “rewarding work.” Sometimes I think they’re just saying that to save face, I don’t know. Yes, teaching is rewarding. I enjoy it, but it’s also hard work. I teach writing. Classes tend to have 20 or more students. Students write 4-5 papers/semester @ 5-8 pp. each. That’s 700 pages or so to read and comment on. Then there’s class prep, meeting with students, and maybe reading and writing to keep up with the field. I think it should be recognized as hard work and paid accordingly.
    And to Mrs. Ewer, I don’t know where that money is going. The gym? Administrative pay? Technology fees? It’s not going to the salaries, that’s for sure. It’s too bad you had such a bad experience, and the thing that’s maybe the saving grace, but also kind of telling is that that Ph.D. student probably landed a job at a school where they don’t really have to teach, because that’s the skewed way Ph.D. programs work. Use the Ph.D.’s to teach cheaply, give them no training, but expect them to get jobs where they will be doing mostly research. When they end up at teaching schools (as is increasingly the case if they get jobs at all), the schools don’t change and instead produce fewer Ph.D. students and replace the lost labor with adjuncts. No one really wins in this scenario.

  16. BJ, I have no idea where they would get the money and assume it would be highly specific to each school. Given that schools used to have the money and that revenue has been (until very recently) increasing far faster than the student population, I’m assuming most school could get it. My guess is that alot of the additional funding went into student amenities that are unrelated to education (as Geekymom notes, the gyms are very nice).

  17. “Demand more teaching from tenured/full-time faculty?”
    The two universities that I am most familiar with the inner workings of had higher teaching loads within living memory. At some point, there was a conscious decision to shift to being a research institution (i.e., a 2-2 teaching load).

  18. “I’m personally annoyed by adjuncts who will take the crap pay because it’s “rewarding work.”
    I’m not, any more than I am by bloggers who write for free or photographers who give their work away (as I do). Well, at least, I’m not annoyed if the adjuncts do it truly because they find it rewarding. There is a subgroup of adjuncts that do truly do the work for the non-monetary rewards. As an example, partners at law firms will teach classes as adjuncts at universities. Quite often, whatever pay they receive has to be returned to the firm (i.e. like a client’s payments). So, they teach because they enjoy it, and get some credit in their workplace for doing so. That, and similar scenarios, is what the concept of “adjuncting” was invented for, I believe.
    But, folks who adjunct because they feel stuck in a rut and can’t figure out what else they want to do, or who are delusional about how that job will lead to the job of their dreams (and I don’t know, actually, whether it is delusional or not). Those people, I can be a bit annoyed about.
    And, I can’t really complain about the people who adjunct because their other option is working at Starbucks and they prefer the hard work of teaching to the hard work of Starbucks.

  19. I’m not part of The Academy, but I am a fairly recent college grad. Yes, adjuncts should be paid more. Tenured faculty should be required to devote more time and energy to teaching. Administrators should be thinned out and paid less. Colleges should become more selective and educate fewer students. Classes with ridiculous names that are designed to appeal to the education-as-entertainment crowd should be eliminated. Less money should be spent on fabulous landscaping, decked-out student centers, and luxurious dorms with state-of-the art gyms.

  20. So if Penn suggested a plan to raise taxes and directing the money at replacing all their adjuncts with full timed salaried employees, you’d support it? or not?
    Or, are we expecting the reliance on low-paid labor to be fixed within existing budgets? You know, with all the waste that must be in them?
    Admin salaries have gone up as a proportion of budgets. One legitimate cost that admin folk point to is the increased cost of compliance (on animal protocols, on human protocols, on workplace safety, on labor relations, on disability accommodations, on budget compliance, . . . .). But, I would like to see more number crunching on University budgets.

  21. So if Penn suggested a plan to raise taxes and directing the money at replacing all their adjuncts with full timed salaried employees, you’d support it? or not?
    BJ, if this it to me, you’re talking about the wrong end of the state. I ain’t no Ivy Leaguer. From looking, it appears that we have only 1/4 of the (non-medical school) faculty being part-time. If this includes grad student TAs, then I don’t think we have much of a problem. From the web, I see that the poli sci department has four lecturers/adjunct faculty (plus two advisers), compared to 24 full-time tenure and tenure track. It doesn’t seem like it would be that big of an issue.

  22. We have 27 full-time faculty and about the same number of adjuncts in our department.
    I adjuncted for several years, starting in 1993. In the beginning, I took 2-3 courses per term and scraped out a life in a 2-room apartment in Park Slope with my husband, who was working full-time. Then I got offered a part-time job tutoring, then it became a full-time job running the program. I taught 1-2 courses a semester as an adjunct because it was important to our provost that academic support staff also teach.
    Then I got pregnant. No way was I working full-time *and* teaching if I could help it. But I wanted to teach, so I took a 1-year teaching job. Then I didn’t get a t-t job, so I went back to running a tutoring program part-time and adjuncting, then when I had my second kid, I quit the tutoring job and just taught one adjunct course per semester, and only when my husband was able to stay with the kids.
    I did it to keep my sanity (I was suffering form some major PPD after kid #2) and I did it to keep myself teaching because I still wanted a full-time job. All the work I did tutoring and adjuncting helped me get my job, too. If I’d had a stronger research background and less of a strong teaching background, I might not have been considered.
    Then again, I’m in English, and there is always a need for people to teach composition.

  23. “I can’t really complain about the people who adjunct because their other option is working at Starbucks.”
    Agreed we are in a particularly bad place at this moment, but I’ve thought since I was a grad student that this is false consciousness. If you can research and manage a project well enough to do a Ph.D., you have transferable skills for a professional job. If you can write and edit well enough that you didn’t hire out that part of the diss, you have even more transferable skills. If you taught more then a couple of sections of a class, then you already have emerging management skills.
    Mrs. Ewer, I’ve had a couple of wretched graduate TAs, but just as many decaying full professors phoning it in from beyond the grave.

  24. “I’m not really sure if pay parity is all that important. It’s not a competition.”
    No, but one’s retirement benefits and Social Security are predicated on the highest earned wage. Since women have a longer life expectancy than men and since we may in fact also be using that retirement income to help support both 90-year-old parents and our children who can’t find jobs with living wages, the loss of earning potential has ramifications beyond a particular tax year. I’m waiting for the data-worshipping economist who will come along and say that women should earn MORE than men per hour or per year because we live longer.

  25. If you can research and manage a project well enough to do a Ph.D., you have transferable skills for a professional job.
    That’s what I keep thinking (not that I finished my Ph.D.), but I still haven’t figured out what or where. I’m in the middle of one of my re-occurring “Why am I still here” phases.

  26. There are two reasons why I shouldn’t adjunct. One is because it’s bad for the entire system that I agree to work for so little money. It enables a slavery system. However, I don’t give a flying f@ck about the system. The system has screwed me over so royally that I only work as a self-interested party in this case.
    The other reason that I shouldn’t adjunct is that it is incredibly demeaning to work for pennies doing the exact same job as t-t faculty. To add insult to injury, I could very well have more experience than they do. It’s actually much better to do something entirely different, like stacking sweaters in the GAP than to be constantly enraged at the injustices of the system.

  27. “To add insult to injury, I could very well have more experience than they do. It’s actually much better to do something entirely different, like stacking sweaters in the GAP than to be constantly enraged at the injustices of the system.”
    I’m so with you on this. I started getting annoyed at seeing new faculty come in with their ivy league degrees but zero teaching experience. I was 10-15 years their senior both in age and experience and I watched them get the brass ring because of the place where they’d gotten their degree and because they’d basically been at the right place at the right time. I don’t want to stand around and watch that anymore. Folding sweaters sounds fine and dandy.

  28. Sadly, since flexible jobs are the most available these days, many people are settling. Many of my friends know of people who take multiple flexible jobs just to make ends meet. And these are college graduates.

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