The Chronicle of Higher Education has published a must-read profile on the growing demographic of terminal academic-degree holders who are finding themselves applying for public assistance, due to job scarcity and low wages. Much of the piece focuses on white men and women, with the angle that this trend is particularly surprising and/or mortifying for them because, as one semi-anonymous source, “Lynn,” asserts:

“People don’t expect that white people need assistance. It’s a prevalent attitude. Applying for food stamps is even worse if you’re white and need help.” “My household went from one to three. My income was not enough, and so I had to apply for assistance,” she says. She now receives food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, and child-care assistance.

“My name is Kisha. You hear that name and you think black girl, big hoop earrings, on welfare, three or four babies’ daddies,” she says. “I had to work against my color, my flesh, and my name alone. I went to school to get all these degrees to prove to the rest of the world that I’m not lazy and I’m not on welfare. But there I was and I asked myself, ‘What’s the point? I’m here anyway.'”

I can personally attest to the difficulties adjunct professors face in trying to support themselves, post-education. When I decided on this career track, it was with a dreamy eye toward the prestige of being called “Professor,” toward earning esteem in my chosen field, toward publishing and paneling and becoming a foremost authority, and toward eventually transitioning up, into the rarefied echelon of the black upper (middle) class.

But, like Kisha, who testifies that she had to work at three different colleges to make ends meet, even before becoming a mother, I was quickly disabused of those notions.

“Prestige” means little for adjuncts, who now make up around 70 percent of U.S. college faculty. Hiring is contingent on enrollment, is contracted to last only 3-4 months at a time, and is low wage, compared to the salaries of full-time faculty (whose positions tend to be insular and designed for employees to “age out” of them or to willingly retire, rather than to ever be fired. Hence, the job scarcity).

The fact is: without retaining work at multiple schools and maintaining contracts with those schools from semester to semester, the likelihood of a salary that remains above the poverty line each year can be rather slim.

In terms of stigma, however, it’s dangerous to insist that one demographic’s reliance on public assistance is “more shameful” than the next’s. It’s all pretty humiliating. For everyone. In the end, the undereducated and the over-educated–of all racial groups–have to stand in the same line. They all have to endure the scrutiny and criticism of strangers who will label them as part of any trope they wish–be it poor white trash or black welfare queen–without any context.

But, if the end, if you’re still preoccupied with public perception, when your education and employment are failing to meet the most basic of human needs like food and shelter, you’re really worried about the wrong things.

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113 Comments

  1. niksmit

    That whole lender/borrower thread above is ridiculous.
    If I have money and someone without an income asks me to borrow money, I’m not lending it to them because they have no means to repay me. This is not how our lenders have been deciding who to lend to in the U.S. That’s not smart business, if their business is built on being repaid with interest. So no, we don’t need to police borrowers, we need to police lenders.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      You people need to get a freakin clue. This is why the world is leaving black people behind. Some of you just don’t understand how BUSINESS works.

      Lenders, in the case of student loans, are loaning you money based on you paying it back LATER WHEN YOU GET A JOB AFTER YOU FINISH SCHOOL. On top of that you have SEVERAL deferment options with these loans. These are the ONLY loans that work that way. You CANNOT compare student loans to other types of loans. They are two very different beast.

      If they (lenders) denied students the opportunity to get loans based on money they haven’t yet earned MOST, if not ALL, students would be rejected.

      Student loans are built around this: I WILL PAY YOU BACK WHEN I GET A JOB AFTER I FINISH SCHOOL.

      Not this: I DON’T HAVE ANY MONEY IN THE BANK SO DON’T LOAN ME ANY MONEY.

      STUDENTS agree to those conditions when they SIGN THE PROMISSORY NOTE.

      What is a promissory note?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promissory_note

      While students are in school, if they have FEDERAL LOANS, the GOVERNMENT pays the interest on those loans. Even if they have to defer their loans, in some cases, the GOVERNMENT will pay the interest on those loans.

      With that said, NO one needs to be policed here. Jobs simply need to be created.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      “If they (lenders) denied students the opportunity to get loans based on money they haven’t yet earned MOST, if not ALL, students would be rejected.”

      ^^Statement should read: If they (lenders) denied students the opportunity to get loans based on money they haven’t yet earned, OR don’t have, MOST, if not ALL, students would be rejected.

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    • niksmit

      Look at me moving past your use of the phrase of “you people.”

      I know exactly how the system works. If you think it’s good business to lend money to people with questionable job prospects and no co-signer to tap for funds, then you have bigger issues than we can address in this forum. Lenders are supposed to assess their risks and approve loans accordingly. When they fail at this they should have to eat it. Instead they got legislation passed that make student loans the only type of debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. I find that highly problematic. Where’s their responsibility in choosing who they lend money to?

      You’ve actually led me to a better discussion though: why do so many students NEED loans to attain a higher education, even at public institutions? Why can’t they pay their tuition by working entry level jobs while attending school like some folks did back in the day?

      There are layers upon layers of problems wrapped up in this discussion, while you remain focused on one tree (the little one with the least power) and miss the forest.

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    • Toppin (Formerly Known As Just Sayin')

      @niksmit

      Keep waiting for the cow to jump over the moon. This is a capitalist world. It ain’t going to change because you find yourself unable to pay for college or unable to pay your student loans. As I told Chic…student loans companies are going to get their money before you get your money (i.e., your wages/income tax check).

      Good day.

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  2. niksmit,
    You hit it on the nose.

    Toppin This is a capitalist world. It ain’t going to change because you find yourself unable to pay for college or unable to pay your student loans.

    Yup, some people say the same thing about those without health insurance or who have insurance that denies coverage for a life saving procedure.

    This is a capitalist world. It ain’t going to change just because you’re 35 have cancer and have a young child you would like to see grow into an adult. Just be lucky you lived to see 35 and be prepared to die cause ya don’t have enough money to save your life.

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