How Are Domestic Workers Coping With COVID-19?
Sat, December 3, 2022

How Are Domestic Workers Coping With COVID-19?



Domestic workers, particularly nannies, experienced unemployment and underemployment as soon as stay-at-home orders were implemented, noted Haeyoung Yoon, senior policy director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). Some nannies were furloughed or were laid off without severance pay. More than a dozen nannies from the Caribbean passed away due to the virus, said Anna Silman of The Cut, a website for women. 



Reports Highlight the Status of Nannies

Ipsos Mori, a global market research company, found that 76% (versus 9% of those answered very/fairly acceptable) of Britons found it fairly/very unacceptable to have a nanny, who does not leave with them, come to their house to look after their children, according to their May 15 research highlights.

73% (versus 12%) also said that it is fairly/very unacceptable to have a cleaner come to their home while they are leaving there. This sentiment was shared by 71% (versus 15%) of Britons who said that having a boyfriend/girlfriend/partner who does not leave with them visit their home. 68% (versus 12%) found it fairly/very unacceptable to have friends/family over the age of 70 to look after their children in person.

In a report by the Economy Policy Institute and NDWA, a non-profit, non-partisan American think tank, women made up the vast majority of domestic workers (91.5% of women and 8.5% of men), along with house cleaners (95.5% of women), nannies (96.8%), and providing child care in own home (97.2%), wrote Julia Wolfe. The findings also included non-agency-based home care aides (86.1% versus 13.9% of men), and agency-based home care aides (88.8% versus 11.2%). Regarding domestic worker occupation, 58.9% of female Hispanics, any race were house cleaners, followed by white, non-Hispanic female (27.7%), Black, non-Hispanic female (6.1%), and Asian female (2%).



Meanwhile, 63.1% of nannies were White, non-Hispanic female, 22.6% were Hispanic, any race female, 7.4% were Black, non-Hispanic female, and 3.1% were Asian women. 37.9% of domestic workers were White, non-Hispanic female, 27.2% were Hispanic, any race female, 19.7% were Black, non-Hispanic female, and 5.5% were Asian female.



Many Families Pay Their Caregivers

Some parents continued to pay their caregivers and guarantee job security, with others paying the full, pre-pandemic salary each week or temporarily reducing it, explained Jaimie Seaton of Business Insider. Parents who could not afford to pay their caregivers or did not want to stopped compensating their caregivers. Other families decided to lay off their nannies because they have become unemployed.

For example, San Francisco-based nanny Nina Hamrani was shocked when she was laid off in one of her jobs. She was employed by two families, spending half the month with each family. Both have one two-year-old and each paid Hamrani $3,000 per month or $14.50 an hour.

The amount is slightly less than what nannies earn in San Francisco and a little less than California’s minimum hourly wage rate of $15. The parents of one child, who work as tech engineers texted Hamrani the day when California implemented the stay-at-order. Now laid off, she was advised to apply for unemployment, which took three weeks to have it approved and another week to get Hamrani’s first payment. Presently, she is collecting about $4,200 in unemployment every month until the end of July. The second family sent $1,000 and repeatedly texted her that they are offering additional finds.



The tech engineers convinced Hamrani to go back to work a month into the stay-at-home order. Declining the offer, she hoped to work with another family after the restrictions. Meanwhile, Mary Aldridge works 12 hours a day, four days a week taking care of the children of her two employers, who are both healthcare workers in Philadelphia. Earning $930 a week, Aldridge said her employers appreciate what she does. Her employers also made her feel that she plays a critical role in helping her bosses perform their jobs.



Nannies Become “Disposable” or Have Few Protections

Due to school closures, nannies who used to live in their own homes were asked to become  “live-in” nannies so they can take care of their employer’s children. One family told their nanny that they are going to pack up and go to Hamptons, giving the nanny the option to live with them or walk out, Brown narrated. She said that the nanny needed money even if she was afraid to come in.

Katie Provinziano, Westside Nannies’ managing director explained, "Abuse can take place where nannies aren't legal to work in the US, and they don't have the language skills, and are afraid to speak up because of their legal status.” Even if nannies are living with their employer, they may not have their own homes to go to. Alarmingly, many nannies are faced with a dilemma of losing their jobs or working under unsafe, illegal circumstances (albeit, in some states), posited Shenandoah Davis, chairman of the board of the Nanny Relief Fund.



It’s Business As Usual

Varying degrees of COVID-19-related restrictions were lifted in all 50 states of the US, with some nannies being called back to work. This is something to be worried about as there is no anti-viral treatment or a vaccine for COVID-19. Mahbubuani stated that the NDWA is offering guidance to nannies who need a safe workplace. However, the government needs to invest in the care industry to “course-correct” during the outbreak, Yoon noted.

Yoon acknowledged that part of the solution is to work and earn wages, in which domestic workers contribute to economic recovery to enable people to go back to work. The goal should be that every individual in the US receives assistance to help them cope with the pandemic safely. Yoon stated that it would be beneficial for nannies to be tested for the virus and provided with PPE.  

Nannies have every right to be treated well during the pandemic. While some families pay their nannies and caregivers, others decide to lay them off because they could not pay them. The US government should bolster its efforts to safeguard the health of nannies who may be risking their lives to come to work.