For the Chronicle of Higher Education, I wrote about the retirement crisis in academia, but it applies to US workers generally:
America’s contingent faculty are not alone in their predicament. According to the National Institute on Retirement Security, 92% of working households in the US do not meet conservative retirement savings targets for their age and income. 45% of working households have no retirement savings at all. The average amount a working household with retirement savings has is $3000. For households with members closest to retirement, the average amount is $12,000.
In short, adjuncts are part of a broader crisis that has decimated the middle class since the 2008 financial collapse. According to the Federal Reserve, 57% of Americans said they’d used some or all of their savings in the Great Recession. The Great Recession led to an economic restructuring in which part-time and contingent labor – “the gig economy” – replaced full-time jobs; the number of low-wage jobs soared while the number of middle and high-wage jobs decreased; and long-term unemployment forced Americans who did have retirement savings to drain them to survive. Contingent faculty are among the many temps, contractors, and freelancers whose ranks have risen since 2008, most of whom lack 401Ks or other pension plans.
Adjuncts are doubly disadvantaged in this economy, as in addition to receiving low wages and no benefits, they are far more likely to carry high student debt. The average amount owed by an advanced degree recipient is $61,000. It is difficult for a tenure-track, salaried professor to pay off such high debt, but for the adjunct, who on average is paid $2700 per course, it is likely impossible.
Burdened by the debt of the past, struggling to survive in the present, contingent faculty often cannot fathom saving for the future.