From searching online, I see that the salaries for math adjunct professors are about 36k. That's insanely low for New York City standards. An undergraduate business school student that graduates from a decent program will make 3x more money in his first year of work than a Math Phd Adjunct Prof. My question is: What else do these adjunct professors do to make ends meet? Do they typically take on another job? A summer job? Work night shifts at a bar?

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    I don't think this question should be closed--although I think it might be edited to make it more general. The basic question is: how do adjunct faculty make ends meet in major urban areas. – user10636 Apr 24 '16 at 12:42
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    Probably salaries vary by location. If universities in NYC cannot find anyone to hire for an adjunct position in math, then what will happen? Will they offer more money? [sensible solution] Will they cancel their math program? Will they hire non-math people to teach math? – GEdgar Apr 24 '16 at 13:51
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    I can ask User001: if you cannot afford to live in NYC, why not apply for jobs somewhere other than NYC? – GEdgar Apr 24 '16 at 13:53
  • @shane Food stamps. – Bob Brown Apr 24 '16 at 14:05
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    I don't know how typical this is, but where I went to undergrad (around Baltimore), the adjunct instructors I had were all teaching 1-2 classes per semester as a second job "for fun." How was the average salary of 36k computed? What does it include? – Kimball Apr 25 '16 at 4:36

30% of households in Manhattan have an income lower than 36k, according to census data; 36k is actually above the average income for an African-American or Hispanic household in Manhattan. You're right that it's hard to get by on that amount of money, but plenty of people manage it.

EDIT: A good point in the comment below: typically graduate stipends are well below this number (31k is the highest I have ever heard for a graduate stipend in math; I'm sure the CUNY stipends are much lower). Of course, most people don't want to live like a grad student forever, but it's not as though it's impossible to survive.

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    One point of anecdata: I did my PhD at NYU making a 31K stipend. It's not even hard to make ends meet with that if you're healthy, don't have a family, and don't mind living in a tiny apartment. – user37208 Apr 24 '16 at 19:13
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    After 10+ years of studying + postdocs, one could wish that the bar was a bit higher than "not impossible to survive"... – user9646 Apr 25 '16 at 8:35
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    @NajibIdrissi I see your point, but the question wasn't whether the situation was right or fair. Also, I feel for the 500K other people in Manhattan making less; that's 36k as household income, whereas many adjuncts have someone else in the family bringing in other income, so 30% understates how many are worse off than the adjunct mentioned by the OP. They may not have done 10 years of school, but that just means most of them have less opportunity to find a job doing something else. – Ben Webster Apr 25 '16 at 13:38

I worked as a math adjunct in NYC for most of the prior decade, making about that much income, no other job, and expenses of about $25K/year. I have a partner who splits expenses with me 50/50 (prior to moving in together we had other roommates who did the same). We live in a nice neighborhood in Brooklyn, but it's very far from Manhattan; we live frugally but comfortably (no kids).

In discussions at school (we've had ongoing contract negotiations for a few years now), the impression that most other staff has is that adjuncts are either public high-school teachers moonlighting for supplemental cash, or spouses of other full-time employed people doing the same. I'm not sure I agree with that characterization (it certainly wasn't true for me).

One other thing about teaching in NYC (at least at CUNY): unlike almost any other location, adjuncts here get full health benefits (up until last year via the PSC-CUNY union; now from CUNY directly). So that's actually an enormous leg up over the same job in other locations. Also: You can easily get by without a car here. All things considered, I was able to save more money adjuncting in NYC than I could previously in Boston.

Edit: PSC-CUNY Adjunct Rights and Benefits

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    That is surprising about the health benefits - thanks for letting me know. I don't go to CUNY but I do know a couple of adjuncts / assistant profs as well tenured associate / full professors at CUNY. I looked up the tenured profs' salaries. $116k. Pretty good. But, all I ever heard from them was a lot of complaining, e.g., "I don't get paid enough to do this". These are math profs. I wonder why they are so cynical and probably disgruntled, when they are making a healthy six-figures, while working on a cushy academic schedule. – User001 Apr 25 '16 at 7:27
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    My guess is that they will never stop comparing themselves to the mathematicians just next door -- over at NYU and Columbia. @DanielR.Collins, – User001 Apr 25 '16 at 7:28
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    There are certainly frustrations to the job. Fairly high teaching load, open admissions, unprepared students from NYC high schools, and more control by non-teaching administration to mandate curricula and higher graduation rates by fiat. The majority of our incoming students don't have 6th-grade arithmetic skills. Every semester I have a few days where I need to talk myself down from quitting and getting a different job. In one sense the schedule is nicely flexible; on the other hand, I'm always working nights, weekends, and holidays at home. – Daniel R. Collins Apr 25 '16 at 15:28

Someone taking such a job almost always is not depending on it as the sole source of income. They may have a spouse who has a more high-paying job in or near New York City. Alternatively, they may be independently wealthy or retired, or at least have enough money to make ends meet for a year or two while they are forced to stay in the city for some reason.

Certainly, someone who takes such a job is doing it because, for whatever reason, they want to be teaching instead of doing something making more money, and they are lucky enough to have another source of income so that they can teach.

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    +1 for "someone who takes such a job is doing it because, for whatever reason, they want to be teaching instead of doing something making more money". That's obviously correct in one sense. However, I do kind of doubt that most adjuncts have other sources of income. I'm located in NYC and know some adjuncts, although not in mathematics. At least the ones I know don't fit the mould of people who have other significant income available. Their motivation for adjuncting is because they believe, falsely, that by doing a lot of excellent teaching they will eventually get a tenure track job. – user10636 Apr 24 '16 at 12:46
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    They pay the bills by living with roommates in poorly maintained buildings in bad neighborhoods. They don't buy health insurance or contribute to pension plans. They eat cheap processed foods. doing those things it is possible to survive (not thrive) even in NYC on 40k a year. If you get paid $4k per course, then you only have to teach 5 courses a semester to make that much. Most of the adjuncts I know teach at least that much. – user10636 Apr 24 '16 at 13:30
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    @scaaahu You're thinking of Manhattan. If you're an adjunct you're going to be commuting from the outer boroughs though. Median household income (pretax) in the Bronx (where I live) is $33k a year. So yeah, an adjunct who is hustling to make $40k isn't going to be doing really well--but it's not like it's impossible. The beef I have here isn't the terrible pay and working conditions, per se. It's the lie that it's just a temporary thing you have to do in order to get the better job down the line. I encourage people to do the research and see who is really getting those good jobs. Not adjuncts. – user10636 Apr 24 '16 at 13:48
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    @scaaahu While estimates of the number of Americans without health insurance varies, no number I've seen has ever been below 10%, even with the recent reforms. – Ben Webster Apr 24 '16 at 18:24
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    -1 False: "Someone taking such a job almost always is not depending on it as the sole source of income." As an actual math adjunct in NYC, this isn't/wasn't true for me. – Daniel R. Collins Apr 24 '16 at 21:14

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