Buzzfeed may not be the most reliable of sources, but this is an interesting graphic produced by Online-PhD-Program.org discussing the problem of adjuncts in the university setting. Unlike some of the adjuncts described here, I've been fortunate enough as an adjunct to scrape together a 35k+ salary every year... But mostly this is because I teach twice the full time load, including summers, plus tutoring and advising every chance I get. I've also worked in coffee shops, taught dance classes, and done tutoring lower than the college level. After 7 years of adjuncting, I finally landed a 3/4 time job, but that means I still have to adjunct and don't get health insurance, pension (though I will be eligible for this later), paid sick/maternity leave, or professional development funding.
Most people would ask why people still adjunct if the pay and benefits are so abysmal. I don't know about others, but I continue to do it because I love teaching. I don't try to find a teaching job outside of the college setting because while I have a masters degree in my field, I'm not certified to teach, and the stability for teachers isn't much better than for professors. Additionally, this is what I've worked for. I worked hard for multiple degrees in English so that I could teach on the college level, but opportunities for professors have decreased so drastically since I began I couldn't have possibly known what I was in for. Now that I'm here, I can't imagine being happy doing anything else.
In some ways, the hardships of being an adjunct means those who are still teaching really do it for the right reasons - because they love it. For the students. This is a good thing, certainly. The problem is that the number of classes and/or extra jobs an adjunct needs to take on to make a living wage means that we have less time to give to each student who comes into our classrooms. I try to give my students as much time an attention as I can, but teaching 6 classes, sometimes spread out across 4 campuses means a lot of time spent in the car, time prepping for classes, time grading. All this means less time in my office being available for students, less time emailing them, less time writing detailed comments on their work. THIS is the real tragedy. Students with adjuncts for professors are learning from qualified, intelligent, passionate instructors... who just don't have as much time and energy to give them as they should.
While I seem to be transitioning out of the adjunct phrase of my career, some professors never do. I'm one of the lucky ones, though I'm still at an in-between, not quite at that coveted full-time, tenure-track position. I hope wherever my career takes me, I'll always remember how hard I worked as an adjunct, how underpaid and underappreciated I often felt, and I hope that I'll see a dramatic change within my lifetime so that those just starting out don't always have to scrape by the way I have.
Check out the graph here: "Everyone Loses When We Underpay Adjunct Professors"