Zoe Berg, Photo Editor

As inflation rates have soared to record levels, some graduate students have raised concerns over how far their annual stipends can stretch.

For decades, Local 33 — a graduate worker union that is fighting for University recognition — has drawn public attention toward stipends, alleging they are not high enough to meet the state’s cost-of-living level. With inflation levels on the rise since April 2021, this year’s consumer prices are the highest the country has faced since the 1980s. Although Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Lynn Cooley announced a stipend raise for this semester in response to steep inflation, some workers are calling for more.

“I love the research that I do and the community I’ve found here, but the cost of living in New Haven is rising faster than our pay is,” Madison Rackear GRD ’25 wrote to the News last week. “Dean Cooley announced last fall that the graduate school would be increasing our pay in response to historically high inflation, yet we waited for almost a year to see any change in our paychecks.”

Graduate students often balance their studies with a variety of jobs and positions that meet their program requirements, including as researchers, lab workers, teaching fellows and instructors. Rackear told the News in April that she balanced working at the medical school with a nine-to-five lab position. 

Living in Connecticut can be costly, and graduate students must live in the New Haven area for at least three academic years, in accordance with GSAS policy. One 2021 estimate placed the state’s cost of living as 27.7 percent above the national average, while another 2022 estimate placed it as 22 percent higher. In turn, the state’s median household income exceeds the national average at nearly $80,000 dollars per year. 

Meanwhile, graduate student stipends currently range from $38,300 to $40,000 per year. These reflect an increase that came into effect this semester — previously, the minimum yearly stipend stood at $33,600, and greater disparities existed between pay levels across divisions. 

“I was disheartened to see Yale admit the cost of living has risen more quickly than usual & still make us wait almost a year to receive our raises. My partner’s grad union @stonybrooku negotiated a COLA that retroactively increased pay,” wrote one graduate student, who was quoted on the Local 33 Twitter profile.

At many other universities, stipend amounts for graduate students tend to be lower than or similar to those at Yale, but several schools with graduate unions provide larger stipends. Dartmouth, where there is no graduate union, provides graduate students a yearly stipend of $35,196; the University of Pennsylvania gives PhD students a minimum of $30,547 for nine months. At Columbia, where graduate students are unionized, students actively working as researchers or instructors receive minimum yearly stipends of $45,320, while those not working on appointments receive a minimum of $44,431. Earlier this year, Brown University’s graduate student union reached a deal with the university to secure stipends of $42,411. 

Princeton, where the graduate student union is unrecognized, announced a 25 percent increase in graduate student stipends across the board in January, shortly after Columbia graduate students engaged in a ten week strike. The Yale GSAS announced their own stipend boost in November 2021, a month after a Harvard graduate union strike over wages and other issues.

The new raise, while in response to this year’s inflation, represents an upward trend over the past few years. 

“One of the first changes I made as dean in 2014 was to guarantee six years of central funding to eligible Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences,” Cooley wrote in an email to the GSAS student body this fall. “Since that time, stipends have increased 35% in the humanities and social sciences; 22% in the physical sciences and engineering; and 21% in the biological sciences.”

Like recognized and unrecognized unions at other universities, Local 33 has made wage increases in response to inflation a central issue during their campaign for recognition. Weeks ago, organizers spent time talking to other graduate students and Yale community members at card-collection tables around campus, attempting to gather signatures to prove majority support for a union. Although the union said it received support from a majority of GSAS students in May, it must now gather cards to file with the National Labor Relations Board for a union ballot.

“Grad workers at MIT are about to start negotiating their first contract. Grad workers at Boston University just announced they are unionizing last week,” Paul Seltzer GRD ’23 wrote to the News. “It’s been really incredible to see grad workers all over campus be so excited to sign their union card in the last few weeks.”

The U.S. inflation rate stands at 8.3 percent for the month of August.

Megan Vaz is the former city desk editor. She previously covered Yale-New Haven relations and Yale unions, additionally serving as an audience desk staffer.