According to UIC Administration, graduate workers earn more than enough money to lead healthy lives, but the reality couldn’t be more different. Not one graduate worker reported earning more than $40,000 on their 2018 W2 from UIC, and 90% of respondents reported earning less than $25,000–just 200% above the federal poverty line, and far below the $66,000 recommended to live comfortably in Chicago. 9 out of 10 graduate workers report worrying about having enough income to pay their monthly bills, and only about one-third of graduate workers (31%) can afford to pay for an emergency $400 expense in full.

Contract

Many graduate workers don’t know if they will have a job to support themselves more than a few days before the scheduled start of their appointment. The lack of transparency about hiring and rehiring makes it difficult to know if they can keep their job through their time at UIC. 6 in 10 (63%) grad workers did not  know if they would have a job more than the required 45 days in advance. This uncertainty makes it impossible to budget and plan for the future, and adds to graduate workers’ stress and anxiety.

As UIC employees, over half (57%) of graduate workers have had to skip meals because they didn’t have enough money for food. A variety of negative physical and mental health outcomes are associated with food insecurity, including diabetes, obesity, hypertension, poor sleep, decreased nutrient intake, increased mental health problems and depression, and lower self-rated health. Additionally, food insecurity is also associated with decreased academic performance, lower GPAs, and housing insecurity.

Housing insecurity is defined by a number of factors, including the inability to pay rent or utilities, or instability, which includes moving multiple times per year or living in overcrowded environments. 8 out of 10 (81°/4) of graduate workers reported experiencing housing burdens, meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on housing, and a third (31%) have had trouble paying their rent or mortgage in the last 12 months. Over three-quarters (77%) of graduate workers reported having to choose between paying for basic necessities (i.e. choosing between paying for medicine or buying groceries, paying tuition/fees or paying for rent).

Low wages, high fees, and employment precarity have led to 8 out of 10 graduate workers experiencing anxiety, and 7 out of 10 experiencing depression
since being employed by UIC. However, only about one-third (36%) of graduate workers have the resources and support to access the mental health care they need. Less than half (44%) of graduate workers with chronic health conditions have the financial resources to properly manage their care.

If UIC is serious about the health and welfare of grad workers, they would start by improving wages, reducing fees, and making hiring processes more transparent and equitable.

There are a number of major consequences for low wages, high fees, and lack of hiring transparency. Employment precarity as well as food and housing insecurity hurts grad workers’ academic success–it’s hard to focus on your work and studies when you’re concerned about where your next meal is coming from or whether or not you’ll be able to afford rent. When graduate workers suffer, their work suffers as well: worker stress and anxiety are associated with decreased productivity, higher turnover, and both absenteeism (missing work for being sick) and presenteeism (going to work despite being sick).

These challenges often overlap, and are more likely to be experienced by students of color or first generation graduate students. It is clear that the current wage and fee structure leaves graduate workers with too little
income to support a healthy life, harming their physical and mental health, and making it harder for students to succeed academically and support their students. In order to address the health inequities affecting graduate workers, UIC administration must prioritize ensuring that all of its students have access to the resources they need to be healthy. This means raising wages, reducing fees, and making hiring practices more transparent and fair.
Tell Chancellor Amiridis (chancellor@uic.edu) to give grad workers a healthy contract now.


References:

Benach. J., Vives, A., Amable, M., Vanroelen, C. Tarafa, G., & Muntaner, C. (2014). Precarious employment: understanding an emerging social determinant of health. Annual review of public health, 35, 229-253.

Goldrick-Rab, S., Richardson, J., & Hernandez, A. (2017). Hungry and homeless in college: Results from a national study of basic needs insecurity in higher education. Madison, WI: Wisconsin HOPE Lab

Student hunger on campus: Food insecurity among college students and implications for academic institutions. American Journal of Health Promotion, 32(2), 349-354

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