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Death of an Adjunct

6:57 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Duquesne Campus

After 25 years of service to Duquesne Universty, an adjunct died in poverty.

Appearing earlier this month on a radio program in Pittsburgh with labor historian Charles McCollester, I heard for the first time the story of Margaret Mary Vojtko, a 25-year adjunct faculty member at Duquesne University who died recently in poverty at the age of 83.

Two and a half years ago, the Keystone Research Center released the most comprehensive state report in the United States on the rising use of adjunct faculty at colleges and universities. The numbers were sobering. Even if they cobbled together a full-time (10 courses per year) load at multiple institutions, adjunct community college faculty in Pennsylvania earned only about $25,000 annually. Contingent faculty members and instructors taught 42% of the courses at all public colleges and universities in Pennsylvania (versus 49% nationally). Most part-time/adjunct faculty members in Pennsylvania public higher education received no health or pension benefits.

Given cuts in state funding for higher education since we wrote our report, the situation is surely worse today in Pennsylvania.

How do we avoid a future in which a majority of higher education faculty earn less than a “quality” wage — a wage sufficient to give teachers time to prepare lessons, establish office hours, and provide feedback that increases student learning?

It would help if we honored the rights of part-time/contingent faculty to join a union — starting, for example, at Margaret Mary’s Duquesne. One game-changing option would give all part-time and contingent faculty at publicly funded Pennsylvania higher education institutions the freedom to form a single statewide local union. This would enable part-time and contingent faculty to negotiate statewide wage and benefit standards and working conditions consistent with teaching excellence. (This type of geographically based union that lifts up low wages and benefits in service industries that can’t relocate — because they have to be near their “customers” — is exactly what is needed to rebuild the middle class generally in Pennsylvania and the United States. See my earlier posts on fast food workers and on the 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream Speech.”)

State lawmakers also need to develop — and fund — a long-term plan for paying all higher education teachers a “quality wage.” In a world both moral and rational, this could be part of a broader plan that also makes post-secondary education affordable again for students, and marries online and in-person education to lower costs while maintaining quality.

This approach starts with values — the outcomes we want for students, faculty, and taxpayers — and then uses technology, collective problem-solving, and social negotiation to create a world that honors those values. Imagine the possibilities.

The story of Margaret Mary is a sad reminder that all public policy discussion should start from values — the world we want to create and, unfortunately, the world we want to avoid.

Read the rest of this entry →

Imagine … A Minimum Wage Your Daughter Could Live On

11:57 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

The Australian minimum wage this year is $15.96 per hour. I know this mostly because my daughter lives in Melbourne these days (not forever, I hope). When she arrived there 18 months ago, she got a job at a minimum-wage restaurant. She earned enough to cover her rent and other expenses.

What brought the idea of a much higher minimum wage to mind is a blog post from Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Policy Research. Dean estimates that the U.S. minimum wage today would be $16.54 per hour if it had kept pace with U.S. productivity growth since 1947.

For those with knowledge of economic history (both of us), a minimum wage that increases its buying power every year does not seem far fetched, even in the good old United States. The U.S. minimum wage DID increase with productivity growth from 1948 to 1968. This linkage (see Dean’s chart below) resulted from the combined impact of two mechanisms: manufacturing wages kept pace with productivity growth thanks to collective bargaining in mass manufacturing (starting with the famous auto industry “Treaty of Detroit” in 1948); and Congress periodically increased the minimum wage to bring it back up to 50% of the average manufacturing wage.

Click on the chart above for a larger view
In recent decades, the most ambitious aspiration in U.S. political debate has been that the minimum wage keep pace with inflation (even Mitt Romney was for this briefly — after he was against it and before he wasn’t sure any more).

If you think about it for a second, a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation is a fairly pathetic aspiration. It means that our lowest-wage workers get to have their living standards stay the same forever, even as the economic pie keeps growing with increases in productivity.

Wages — and minimum wages — that keep pace with productivity growth express a different and completely practical aspiration: the idea that workers at all levels should share in the expanding economic pie. Fair reward for hard work. Even sounds like a fundamental American value. Let’s get back to it. If we did, Charlotte might even come home.

All Together Now, It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage

7:38 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState


(photo by spike55151 via flickr)


By Mark Price, Third and State

The New York Times reports this morning that a labor organizer and advocate for a higher minimum wage in Bangladesh has been brutally murdered.

The killing of the activist, Aminul Islam, marks a morbid turn in the often tense relations between labor groups, on one side, and Bangladesh’s extensive garment industry, which makes clothes for Western companies like Walmart, Tommy Hilfiger and H&M. In 2010, Mr. Islam, a former textile factory worker, was arrested and, he and other labor activists said, was tortured by the police and intelligence services.

Also in The New York Times this morning, Steven Greenhouse profiles the campaign to raise the minimum wage in the United States.

As the nation’s economy slowly recovers and income inequality emerges as a crucial issue in the presidential campaign, lawmakers are facing growing pressure to raise the minimum wage, which was last increased at the federal level to $7.25 an hour in July 2009.

State legislators in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and elsewhere are pushing to raise the minimum wage above the federal level in their own states, arguing that $7.25 an hour is too meager for anyone to live on.

It’s time to get serious about raising the minimum wage here in Pennsylvania.

PA Must Reads: EITC Awareness, New Economic Geography and Stigmatizing The Hungry

7:04 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

(photo: cobalt, flickr)

(photo: cobalt, flickr)

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Today is Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) awareness day!

EITC, the Earned Income Tax Credit, sometimes called EIC is a tax credit to help you keep more of what you earned. Congress originally approved the tax credit legislation in 1975 in part to offset the burden of social security taxes and to provide an incentive to work. When EITC exceeds the amount of taxes owed, it results in a tax refund to those who claim and qualify for the credit.

Since we are on the topic of the EITC, today is a good day to highlight a proposal to strengthen both the minimum wage and the earned income tax credit so that they are more effective tools for reducing poverty.

..we begin by proposing a 70 percent increase in current minimum wage rates. This would raise the federal minimum from today’s rate of $7.25 to $12.30 per hour.

We also propose two expansions of the EITC, the federal program that provides tax relief and cash benefits for low-income working families. These include raising the maximum EITC benefits by 80 percent and the income eligibility threshold to three times the federal poverty line. The maximum EITC benefit would rise from $5,028 to $9,040 and households with incomes up to $57,000 could receive some benefit.

In combination, these two policy measures would guarantee 60 percent of all low-income working families a decent living standard through full-time employment. The other 40 percent of low-income working families offer more difficult challenges, because they either live in high-cost areas or they depend on only one wage-earner to raise children. But our proposed measures would substantially improve conditions for these households as well. Current policy terms guarantee a decent living standard for only 12 percent of low-income working families. Read the rest of this entry →

PA Must Reads: Minimum Wage Moving Higher in Ohio and Happy Holidays

8:10 am in Uncategorized by ThirdandState

Happy Holidays! (image: kevin dooley/flickr)

Happy Holidays! (image: kevin dooley/flickr)

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

Mixed in with this morning’s news of holiday surprise layoff notices and property tax hikes is some good news for low-wage workers in Ohio where the minimum wage will rise to $7.70 on Jan 1.

The campaign in 2006-07 to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage initially included language that would adjust Pennsylvania’s minimum wage annually to account for inflation, but that language was ultimately dropped. The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is currently $7.25 per hour, an amount that steadily commands less and less purchasing power with each passing year.

The Morning Must Reads (and Third and State) are going to take a break for the holidays. I will be back in service January 3, 2012.

I hope you have found the Morning Must Reads useful. If there are things I can do to make this feature even better, let me know in the comments or shoot me an e-mail. Better still, if you see stories that you think are relevant, post them in comments or send them to me.

I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday and happy New Year!