In the News

The global plight of domestic workers: few rights, little freedom, frequent abuse

An estimated 53 million people, mostly women, are employed as domestic workers in private households around the world.

While domestic workers are now considered crucial to the smooth running of national economies, as a workforce they remain one of the most vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and modern-day slavery.

Human rights campaigners have catalogued a litany of exploitation faced by domestic workers at the hands of their employers, including forced labour, rape, daily beatings and being forced to work long hours with no breaks.

According to the International Domestic Workers Federation, employers who exploit or underpay their domestic workers make $8bn (£5.1bn) a year in illegal profits.

The vulnerability of domestic workers is rooted in the nature of their work – typically undertaken behind closed doors in private homes far from their own communities – and the lack of legal protection they receive.

Though critical to the functioning of national economies, only 10% of domestic workers have the same basic labour rights as other sectors. A quarter of all domestic workers are not afforded any legal rights at all.

How to Solve the Looming Care Deficit: Author Ai-Jen Poo says taking care of home care workers is a first step

The number of Americans needing at-home care will increase dramatically as baby boomers age. By the year 2035, there are expected to be 11.5 million people over age 85 in the U.S., compared to 5 million today.

A large number of people won't have the resources to pay for this care unless something changes. Add to this a shortage of home health care workers and underfunded social programs for the elderly, and a perfect storm is on the way.

Despite the challenging outlook, author Ai-Jen Poo says this collision of events presents an opportunity to address the needs of families, home care workers and taxpayers all at once.

Speaking Thursday at "The Future of Eldercare: What We Need for a Changing America," a Washington, D.C., panel hosted by New America, Poo offered a three-pronged approach to help close the coming gap in needs and services. First, improve the quality of care and access to quality care, she said. Second, make sure there are plenty of choices in terms of aging at home. And third, improve the quality of home health care jobs, making sure that the workforce is secure and can support their own families.

Ai-jen Poo, Still Alice and the “Care Revolution”

“In the darkest of times, you can always find incredible oases of connection, of care and of love,” said Still Alice director Wash Westmorelandto an intimate gathering of some of Hollywood’s most inspiring artists and creative leaders at Soho House in West Hollywood last Monday.

Celebrating the remarkable activist work of 2014 MacArthur “Genius” fellow and director of theNational Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo, and the Academy Award-winning “story of care,”Still Alice, the private luncheon highlighted the pressing need for a “care revolution in America” and the importance of celebrating the unsung heroes and caregivers of our lives.

'Age of Dignity' Author, Caregivers Call for Home-Worker & Immigrant Rights

SAN FRANCISCO--Pam Tau Lee recently faced an unintended consequence of U.S. immigration policy when one of her parents’ care workers called from a Texas detention center.

Frightened and in tears, caregiver Joy had been stopped on a bus ride to Florida where she was going to see her grandson turn one year old and attend a family reunion. Immigration officials confiscated Joy’s medications, Lee said, and held Joy for a month before an immigration attorney could secure her release pending her hearing this month.

Joy is one of 2 million care workers in the United States, many of them immigrants, who are called on to serve the nation’s rapidly aging population even as they struggle to get by with little pay and few job protections.

Lee, who chairs the Chinese Caregiver Association in San Francisco, says her father at first didn’t answer when he got the call from the Texas detention center. He didn’t know what, “Do you accept a collect call?” meant. Eventually, he answered.

Pathway to Citizenship

America’s boomers and undocumented immigrants need each other

Many have already called Judge Andrew Hanen’s temporary stop to President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration shortsighted.

I’m one of those people, but probably not for the reasons you might think. It’s not only because helping millions of undocumented immigrants legalize their status and come out of the shadows will strengthen our communities and economy, and is the moral and right thing to do.

There’s a dimension of immigration policy that is rarely discussed, yet each one of us should bear in mind: every American who intends to grow old with dignity and independence should embrace this action — including Judge Hanen.

Forum: International Women’s Day — Women are still working to be seen

Since 1911, March 8 has been recognized as International Women’s Day across the world to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women, but in the United States you wouldn’t know it. Has this holiday become just as invisible as the women it serves to celebrate?

In the state of Connecticut, a group of domestic workers is fearlessly organizing to change that. Along with groups of women in Chicago, New York, and other cities, we’re gathering to honor women’s contributions and urge that those in power work for women whose “work makes all other work possible.”

For 15 years, I worked as a domestic worker — I cared for many children, and supported senior citizens enabling them to stay in their home instead of a nursing home. I provided love and care, and I always felt that the job was more than just the physical support. Throughout my years as a caregiver, I provided the emotional support needed to bring smiles and dignity into their lives, yet most days my own basic needs were not met.


In the second half of the radio show Alicia Garza of #BlackLivesMatter and the Domestic Workers Alliance joins to discuss the plight of domestic workers and here piece in The Nation, “Where The Leadership Of Black Women Can Take Us.” Click on the link below to listen to the show. Alicia's piece begins at 31:31.

Activist Ai-jen Poo: "We Owe It to Ourselves to Support People's Living"

It's a bitterly cold early February afternoon and Ai-jen Poo - a 2014 MacArthur "genius" award winner, author of a just-released book called The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America, co-founder of the 15-year-old New York City-based Domestic Workers United, and the executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance - is sipping tea in a bustling café in downtown Brooklyn. I'm five minutes early for our prearranged meeting, but it's clear that Poo has been nestled in a corner table, writing and preparing a presentation, for a while. Waving hello, she motions for me to sit while she finishes a call. Her focus then shifts and she graciously prepares to be interviewed. She smiles widely, warmly. And while I suspect she's answered each of my questions many times before, she evinces neither boredom nor annoyance. Instead, she gives me her wholehearted attention and appears to think deeply about everything I ask.

This is What Democracy Looks Like

Today marks the 19th annual National Day of Protest To Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. It also marks the 74th day since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson Police Department officer Darren Wilson. It has been 74 days since Leslie McSpadden hugged her son.

When unarmed Brown was shot down on August 9, I, like many Black people across the country, cried out in horror and rage. Only a few days before, unarmed Eric Garner was killed by NYPD officers. And Ted Wafer was found guilty of murdering unarmed Renisha McBride in Michigan. The lives of those of us who are poor and Black show us the fissures in America’s promise. In the land of the free, too many of us do not enjoy the freedoms promised.

First a whisper, and then a shout: Black lives matter.

A few weeks after Michael Brown’s death, as the media and the National Guard were leaving Ferguson, I arrived in St. Louis to work with local community members who yearn to end the troubling practice of extrajudicial killings. I also joined nearly 600 Black people from across the country for a Black Lives Matter Freedom Ride to Ferguson.