Ph.Ds on Food Stamps

The Chronicle of Higher Education just published a fascinating article about the number of people with graduate degrees currently living off of food stamps. You can read the full article here. The article proves how much deep budget cuts to education have  a severe impact on everyday people, including folks that spent years getting an M.A. and then Ph.D., but then struggle to survive.

The article tells the story of two part-time teachers, Melissa Bruninga-Matteau,a 43-year-old single mother with a Ph.D. in medevial history. The article states, “Her take-home pay is $900 a month, of which $750 goes to rent. Each week, she spends $40 on gas to get her to the campus; she lives 43 miles away, where housing is cheaper.”

However, she does not blame the colleges where she teaches for the pay, but rather the cuts to education that impacted the school where she teaches. The article goes on to say,” In Arizona last year, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed a budget that cut the state’s allocation to Yavapai’s operating budget from $4.3-million to $900,000, which represented a 7.6 percent reduction in the college’s operating budget. The cut led to an 18,000-hour reduction in the use of part-time faculty like Ms. Bruninga-Matteau.”

The article also highlights the plight of Elliott Stegall, a white, 51-year-old married father of two. He teaches two courses each semester in the English department at Northwest Florida State College, in Niceville, Fl. He recalls the first time he ever stepped into the welfare office: “The first time we went to the office to apply, I felt like I had arrived from Eastern Europe to Ellis Island. The place was filled with people from every culture and ethnicity. We all had that same ragged, poor look in our eyes.”

Over the last 10 years, the number of people on food stamps has skyrocketed. There has been an increase of 17 million in 2000 to 44 million people in 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Web site, and as the article proves, there are a variety of people now in need of food stamps, medicaid, and other welfare programs, including teachers.

The article doesn’t make clear any solution to his problem, but there is an election in the fall. Though a lot of the governors that were elected in 2010 still have some years left in office, their positions on education could change if they faced more opposition in the state house and senate. A lot of these Republican governors enjoy party majorities, so they are left unchecked. But what would happen if they did have more opposition? They certainly would not be able to ram through budgets similar to that of Jan Brewer’s.

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