I am a postdoc in Physics areas and trying to get myself ready for applying for tenure track positions. However, the US academic salary system seems still mysterious to me. In several salary surveys, a reasonably close figure for starting salaries of starting assistant professor positions emerge as $75-80K per year. The point is that, as far as I understand it, the salary is based on the calender year basis. However, the contracts for the assistant professors are usually academic year basis (except that probably in the first couple of years they may get this full salary in their start up package). This means that practically they get $55-60K for 8-9 months. The rest of the salary, called the summer salary, needs to be obtained via applying to the respective funding agencies.
However, funding is obviously not guaranteed every year. So it is obviously out of question that people should be based on the full year salary amounts shown above. Truthfully, their salaries are $55-60k per calender year and if they are able to get some funding, they can get some bonus over the summer.
Now, the first question is: isn't it way too low of a starting salary for a PhD in STEM areas?! Especially, people are normally already in their mid 30s when they get a tenure track position so they usually have a family to support. Sure, there are many people survive with much lower salaries and also the stereotypical argument that you don't enter academia if you want to earn money is also around. But I am talking about skills, experience and qualification. Anyway, it just seems too low salary to me and I would really want to know if there is something crucial I am missing here.
Secondly, what do faculty members do if they don't get the summer salaries, what other options are there for them to compensate the money.