The study, done by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Center for Urban Economic Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and other groups, surveyed 2,086 domestic workers in 14 cities. The median wage for nannies was $11 an hour, with housecleaners and caregivers earning a median of $10 an hour. Immigrants, especially undocumented ones, earned less. Lurking beneath the median, 23 percent of the workers surveyed were paid less than the minimum wage in their states. For live-in workers, it's worse: 67 percent are paid less than minimum wage. Benefits? Forget it. Less than nine percent have employers who pay into Social Security and just four percent have employer-provided health insurance. And this is for working long, often physically taxing hours without breaks; many live-in workers can't even count on an uninterrupted night's sleep.
Domestic workers were excluded from the protection of major labor laws precisely because they were vulnerable—at the time the laws were written, Southern legislators who wanted to maintain a pool of low-paid black workers were the driving force. Not too much has changed: According to the Census Bureau, there were 726,437 domestic workers in 2010, 95 percent of whom were women, a majority of whom were racial and ethnic minorities, and 46 percent of whom were foreign-born. They continue to be exploited both by policy and by their individual employers.
Employers like this, for instance, can rot in hell:
Having honed her child development skills as a teacher in the Philippines, Anna was hired as a live-in nanny for a family of four in Midtown Manhattan. Anna’s workday is long, and she works every day of the week. She begins at 6 a.m. when the children wake up, and ends around 10 p.m. when she finishes cleaning the kitchen, after having put the children comfortably to bed. Her work consists of multiple tasks: cleaning, laundry, preparing family meals, and tending to all the children’s needs, including 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. On average, then, she is paid just $1.27 per hour.President Barack Obama has proposed a rule that would extend overtime and minimum wage protections to in-home care workers. If implemented, that would be a massive step forward for domestic workers, but they need more. All workers should receive these fundamental protections, as well as the right to breaks for meals, rest and a full night's sleep. Workers should be allowed to organize into unions if they choose, and should be protected from discrimination and harassment. In the absence of such laws, employers should do better. There's no excuse for paying a worker below minimum wage just because she works in your home, no excuse for demanding inhumane hours or imposing work burdens that lead to chronic pain or force housecleaners to breathe in toxic substances. But because there are a lot of people out there who are all too willing to treat other people this way, the law must be improved.