Summer Jobs, Credit Cards & Unemployment: Surviving the Summer on an Adjunct Budget

Unemployment Line for Adjuncts

Summer is coming up and, for most adjuncts, that means 3-4 long months without a paycheck. Most adjuncts receive their final paycheck of the spring semester in May, and they won’t be paid again until September. The summer months can get pretty tight financially—especially for those adjuncts who aren’t lucky enough to find summer work.

Adjunct budgets are notoriously thin anyway without the added strain of skimming a portion each month to survive the financial dearth of the summer months. Saving money on an adjunct’s salary is nearly impossible. So adjuncts must find some other way to continue to pay rent when they aren’t teaching.

The really lucky adjuncts snap up a summer section or two, which keeps the paychecks coming. But most schools have many more adjuncts than they have summer sections, so only a few score one of these coveted assignments. Landing a summer class is the dream for most adjuncts because it means they can continue to eat without running up their credit cards.

I’ve known many an adjunct—myself included—who have had to rely on credit cards over the summer months. During graduate school, I ran up about $8,000 in credit card debt. I depended on my credit card to squeeze me through the pay gaps.

Summer Jobs for Adjuncts

Of course, the ideal solution to the strain of the adjunct summer is to find a job during those three non-teaching months. Just something that can keep the income consistent, even if it’s not glamorous. Believe me, I’m no stranger to taking ignominious jobs in order to fill gaps in employment. For most of grad school, I delivered pizzas at night. I kept this job during my first year as an adjunct while trying to dig out of my debt hole.

But never did I deliver pizzas in the same city where I taught. I couldn’t bear the thought of ringing a student’s doorbell and handing over a large pie topped with pepperoni and shame. Could you imagine recovering any kind of classroom ethos after that exchange?

The problem is it’s not that easy to pick up a job for only three months. Hiring managers aren’t stupid and they realize over-educated workers will turnover quickly. They don’t want to hire and train someone who will quit a few months later.

Therefore, your best bet might be to find a seasonal job that expects to churn employees quickly. Landscaping crews are a good example of this kind of work. I’ve done it. Seasonal warehouse jobs also fit the bill. Done that, too.

But what if one has a physical limitation that keeps him from taking a labor-intensive seasonal job? Seasonal jobs for knowledge workers are harder to come by. A couple good examples are tutoring, freelancing, and teaching for a test prep company. Temp agencies are another safe bet, but you should send your resume to them as soon as possible in order to get in the rotation for summer work.

One more idea: If you plan ahead, you can substitute teach in local public schools during the last month of the school year, after college classes have ended. I’ll be doing that in May.

Filing for Unemployment During the Summer

Finally, for some adjuncts, the option that makes the most sense is filing for unemployment during the summer pay gap. As I said, picking up a job for a couple months can be tough, not to mention stressful. Adjuncts with children are especially vulnerable during these months without pay. It’s much more difficult for them to pick up a 9-5 job cutting grass—and it might not even make financial sense once childcare is accounted for.

If you’re an adjunct considering unemployment this summer, here a couple good resources you should check out:

  • Access to Unemployment Insurance Benefits for Contingent Faculty is an excellent guide to filing for unemployment as an adjunct. It was published by the Chicago Coalition on Contingent Academic Labor (COCAL) with the help of NEA, AAUP, and AFT. Basically all the big education unions had a hand in compiling this manual.
  • The Unemployment Question is a blog post at the Adjunct Project with a discussion thread 45 comments long about adjuncts who have filed for unemployment in various states.

Surviving the summer as an adjunct without pay is rough. Many of the thousands of adjuncts at American universities suffer through this pain every year. Whether you get a summer class, find a temporary job, rack up credit card debt, or file for unemployment, know that you aren’t alone.

If you would like to ask a question to the adjunct community, feel free to post it here. I also edit the Adjunct Project blog and I’d be glad to open up your question to the group.

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