The burgeoning growth of the US higher education adjunct labor force is something I've been following with interest for over ten years. As with workers in other areas, they've seen falling real incomes, more precarious employment, more difficult working condtions, and fewer and fewer benefits. A stressful life.
As I got to know my adjunct colleagues better, I began to see these largely invisible, voiceless laborers as a hugely diverse group of amazing teachers. Some are employed at full-time jobs in education or elsewhere, some are retired or supported by wealthier others, but far too many are just barely surviving. While instances of dumpster diving are rare, adjunct shopping is typically limited to thrift stores, and decades-old cars sometimes serve as improvised offices when these "roads scholars" are not driving from campus to campus, all in a frantic attempt to cobble together a livable income. Some adjuncts rely on food stamps or selling blood to supplement their poverty-level wages, which have been declining in real terms for decades.
... And what does it say about my entire profession when over 70 percent of those teaching in American colleges today are precarious, at-will workers? This new faculty majority, frequently and erroneously mislabeled as part-timers, are often full-time, long-term perma-temps, whose obscenely low wages and total lack of job security constitute what is only now being recognized as the "dirty little secret" in higher education.
The exploitation is indeed filthy, but for me and my tenured colleagues, this scandal is neither little nor secret: the vast majority of those well-educated, skilled professionals who daily teach millions of students in our classrooms are actually being paid far less than the workers who nightly clean them. Ad-cons are treated as chattel or as servants who can be dismissed at the will and whim of any administrator from departmental chair to dean or provost.