May 28, 2023

A Study of Home Help Finds Low Worker Pay and Few Benefits

The study, based on interviews with 2,086 workers in 14 major metropolitan areas, found substantial differences in pay across ethnicity, immigration status and whether the worker lived with her employer.

The report found that the median wage for nannies was $11 an hour, compared with a $10-an-hour median for caregivers and housecleaners. But 23 percent of the workers earned less than their state’s minimum wage, which varies but must be at least the federal level of $7.25 an hour. Domestic workers are generally not covered by federal or state minimum wage laws.

The study noted that white domestic workers generally earned more than their black, Hispanic and Asian counterparts, although the study said that African-American nannies earned slightly more — a median of $12.71 an hour — than white ones ($12.55 an hour). Hispanic nannies earned $8.57 an hour, while Asian ones earned $11.11.

Called “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work,” the study was based on interviews with nannies, caregivers and housecleaners who now work in the United States but originally came from 71 countries. The interviews were conducted in nine languages: English, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese, Tagalog, Mandarin, Cantonese, Haitian Creole and Nepali.

The researchers found that domestic workers who were illegal immigrants earned considerably less than those who were American-born or naturalized citizens. Nannies who were citizens had a median pay of $12.50 an hour, while illegal immigrants earned $9.86 an hour. Caregivers who were American citizens received a median of $10.30 an hour; caregivers without legal work authorization earned $8.33.

“The upshot of the study is that domestic workers who help so many families with taking care of their loved ones and taking care of their homes often earn so little that they have a difficult time supporting their own families,” said Nik Theodore, an author of the study and an associate professor of urban policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Mr. Theodore said there are about 800,000 nannies, caregivers and housecleaners who work for households who pay them directly. The researchers did not study domestic workers employed through companies or outside agencies.

The study’s other author was Linda Burnham, research director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an advocacy group. The study was financed by the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundations and the Alexander Soros Foundation.

The study noted that the American Community Survey, conducted by the Census Bureau, found that 95 percent of domestic workers were women, 46 percent were immigrants, 54 percent were nonwhite and 35 percent were noncitizens.

Live-in domestic workers were found to earn far less than “live-outs.” Live-in nannies earned a median wage of $6.76 an hour, the study said, while live-out nannies earned $11.55. Live-in caregivers earned $7.69 an hour, compared with $10 for live-out caregivers. According to the study, 67 percent of live-in domestic workers earn less than their state’s minimum wage.

With many domestic workers called on to take care of infants or the elderly during the night, the study found that 25 percent of live-in workers said their responsibilities prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Most domestic workers do not receive fringe benefits from their employers, the study found. About 65 percent of domestic workers reported that they did not have health insurance of any kind, and just 4 percent said they received coverage through their employer. About 82 percent said they did not receive paid sick days, and only 9 percent said their employers paid into Social Security for them.

“The good thing about the job is you get to meet different people and form a bond with people,” said Barbara Young, who worked as a nanny and caregiver for 17 years in New York and is now a full-time organizer with the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “But the big problem was compensation. It’s often very low salary and there are often no benefits.”

Ms. Young said she once asked her employer to take out money to contribute to Social Security for her. But at the end of the year, she recalled, the husband in the house returned that money, saying he had not bothered to pay it into Social Security.

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