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Wages fell for professors this year in largest drop on record, report says


Biden’s inflationary policies tied to historic drop in real wages for academics

Real wages for professors fell by five percent during the 2021-22 year due to the pandemic and inflation, according to the American Association of University Professors’ annual economic report — “the largest decrease on record” since the AAUP began releasing reports in 1972.

“Nominal wages for full-time faculty increased 2.0 percent overall in 2021–22, but after accounting for inflation, we are faced with a stark reality: real average full-time faculty salary decreased 5.0 percent overall,” the report stated.

The College Fix reached out to AAUP spokesperson Kelly Benjamin on June 22 via email to ask his opinion on the changes in real wages from the beginning of the Biden administration.

Benjamin replied in an email July 6 that “the AAUP does not draw the conclusion that the decrease in real average full-time faculty compensation is somehow connected to the Biden administration,” and that “without the increase in federal stimulus funding under Biden, the decrease [of five percent in real wages] likely would have been even greater.”

The current economy faces 40-year-high inflation rates in 2022, at 8.6 percent in May, according to the report. It found the decrease in real wages remained relatively consistent across faculty rank and institution type after collecting data from over 370,000 full-time and 90,000 part-time faculty members at over 900 colleges and universities across the United States.

The high inflation rate and lower real wages is different from the first three years of President Donald Trump’s administration.

From 2017-2019, the first three years of the Trump presidency, real wages rose by 0.7, 0.1 and 0.4 percent each year, the report states. From 2019 through 2020, however, coronavirus lockdowns created a disruption in the economy resulting in unemployment that may have been at “a level not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.”

Although employment rates in higher education have “lagged behind the national recovery,” by February 2022, college and university employment returned to nearly pre-pandemic levels, regaining 90.2 percent of employment lost from January 2020, the report stated. Yet, despite economic recovery from the coronavirus, real wages dropped even further.

Inflation has risen since 2021, when Democrats passed a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill in March 2021 and “supply couldn’t keep up, and prices rose,” according to Vox. Salaries, including those of professors, did not keep up, resulting in the decrease in real wages.

Professors overwhelmingly supported Biden, register as Democrats

Employees at colleges and universities contributed approximately $4.9 million to Biden’s 2020 election campaign, more than five times the approximately $890,000 they donated to Trump, according to federal elections records and an analysis by Inside Higher Ed.

Professors who are registered Democrats also outnumber those who are registered as Republicans with an average ratio of 11.5 Democrats to one Republican, according to a study of over 7,000 professors across five academic fields conducted by Econ Journal Watch.

The College Fix has also documented the strong tilt of faculty donations toward Democratic Party candidates, including for president.

The Fix also contacted Ryan Owens, a political scientist at UW-Madison, for comment on professors’ wages going down partially due to Biden’s policies. Owens, a former Republican attorney general candidate, recently argued that universities need to do more to break their ideological bubbles.

MORE: Universities hike tuition amid Biden administration’s rampant inflation

Editor‘s note: After publication, the AAUP responded to The College Fix’s request for comment, and we amended the article to include the association’s response. 

IMAGE: Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

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About the Author
Sylvie Patterson -- Trinity University