Report Finds Many Domestic Workers Receive Poverty-Level Wages and are Subject to High Levels of Abuse

New York, NY – Today, the National Domestic Workers Alliance released a groundbreaking new report, Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work, examining the state of domestic work in the US. More than 2,000 nannies, house cleaners, and caregivers were surveyed in 14 cities, drawing for the first time an empirically grounded picture of what it means to be a domestic worker in 21st century America.

“Domestic workers care for our children, they care for our parents, and they care for our homes. Yet, all too often, we fail to recognize their importance to our families and to the economy,” said Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “These women do the work that makes all other work possible, and they deserve the protections afforded by US law.”

The study focuses on four primary aspects of the domestic work industry:

●      Low pay, lack of benefits and their impact on the lives of workers and their families;

●      Lack of enforceable contracts and substandard conditions of work;

●      Hazardous working conditions, on-the-job injuries and the lack of access to health care;

●      Abuse at work with no recourse or remedy.

Key findings include:

●      23% of workers surveyed are paid less than the minimum wage;

●      48% of workers earn a wage below the level needed to adequately support a family;

●      10% of workers are victims of wage theft, including not receiving any wages at all;

●      23% reported being paid late, compounding the high burdens of low-wage work;

●      25% of live-in workers had work responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night in the week before being surveyed;

●      Domestic workers often endure verbal, psychological, and physical abuse on the job, and, because of the vulnerabilities they face, rarely have effective recourse;

●      Domestic workers who are hired directly by their employers have severely limited employment rights and can find no remedy in federal law for employment discrimination, unsafe working conditions or constraints on their right to organize and bargain collectively.

“This study shows what happens when workers are excluded from basic workplace protections,” said Professor Nik Theodore of the University of Illinois at Chicago and a co-author of the report.

“Domestic workers do not enjoy full coverage under US employment law, nor do they receive the workplace protections that most Americans take for granted. As a result, they endure profound economic hardships.”

According to Barbara Young, a domestic worker for more than 18 years, “We domestic workers know how tough it can be on the job. This report reflects what we experience day to day, and it shows why we have to work together to make change.”

Worker profiles included in the report illuminate the abuses domestic workers endure:

Elena worked as a live-in nanny earning $1.50 an hour, before finding higher-paying work in Miami as a housecleaner and nanny. Then her employer stopped paying her. Elena reports, “She kept promising to pay me, and I kept working. She would give me checks sometimes, but they were bad. I worked … without being paid, until she owed me almost $7,000. I thought I had to keep working or else I would not have a right to get the pay she already owed me.”

Anna works as a live-in nanny for a family of four in Midtown Manhattan. She works every day, from 6:00 a.m. when the children wake up, until 10 p.m. when she cleans the kitchen after putting the children to bed. Her work consists of many tasks, including cleaning, laundry, preparing family meals, and tending to all the children’s needs, such as teaching them to read. At night she sleeps between her charges on a small mattress placed on the floor between their beds. She has not been given a single day off in 15 months. Like many domestic workers, Anna’s pay is low. She was originally promised $1,500 a month but receives only $620, or an average of $1.38 per hour.

Carmen was hired as a live-in housecleaner for a Miami couple. Soon her duties included laundry, gardening, childcare, and looking after 10 dogs. Though she was promised lodging and food, Carmen was only allowed to eat when there was food to spare. She was paid $30 some weeks, $50 others, but most of the time she was paid nothing at all. When Carmen broke her arm on the job, she tried to work through the pain. As it became clear that she needed medical attention and would not be able to continue working as she had been, her employers fired her, leaving Carmen injured and without a job or a place to live.

Domestic workers in Chicago confront many of these same conditions.  For example, Digna Morales, member of Latino Union of Chicago and a domestic worker for the past 10 years, has never received overtime pay for the many extra hours of labor provided for childcare.  “I care for the children of my employer like they are my own, with so much love and dedication,” says Digna, “but yet we don’t have the right to minimum wage or overtime or even classified as workers.”  Barbara is a member of Arise Chicago and a caregiver of over 10 years.  She was injured on the job while caring for an elderly man with Parkinson’s disease.  Her employer did not provide her health insurance and fired her after the accident.  “Lack of health insurance and workers’ compensation is a huge problem for domestic workers,” Barbara says, “and my experience is proof.  As domestic workers, we work hard and deserve protection like other workers do.”

The report also contains policy recommendations, including:

●      Lifting the exclusion of domestic workers in all state-level minimum wage laws;

●      Adding domestic workers to workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance programs;

●      Guaranteeing equal rights to overtime pay, and meal and rest breaks;

●      Protecting domestic workers under all state and federal anti-discrimination laws.

Latino Union and Arise Chicago welcome the release of Home Economics.  The study underscores why our initiatives for the rights of domestic workers are so critical.  “These findings are shocking, and a sad reality shared by thousands of workers around the country, that’s why we as workers are laying the groundwork to bring about an overdue drastic change.” –Myrla Baldonado, Domestic Worker Organizer, Chicago Coalition of Household Workers.

“The challenges facing domestic workers are a window into some of our most pressing social issues – how will families cope with the rising costs of senior care, how will they find high-quality and affordable childcare, and what role will immigrant workers play in helping families meet these growing needs?” said Linda Burnham, Research Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and a co-author of the report. “This study is also a call to action. We must forge a path forward with legislative reforms to move us toward a more caring economy.”

The study was funded by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Between June 2011 and February 2012, 2,086 domestic workers were surveyed in 14 metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.

Co-founded in 2007 by award-winning leader Ai-jen Poo (“The Nannies’ Norma Rae” – New York Times and named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World), the National Domestic Workers Alliance has 35 membership-based affiliate organizations of nannies, housekeepers and caregivers located in 18 cities and 11 states across the country.


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