Key Findings

  • Domestic workers earn substandard pay, and enjoy little economic mobility or financial security.
  • Formal employment contracts are rare in the domestic work industry, and where work agreements do exist, employers frequently violate them.
  • Employers think of their homes as safe, yet domestic work can be hazardous.
  • Domestic workers who encounter problems frequently feel too vulnerable to stand up for themselves, especially live-in workers and undocumented immigrants.

The survey revealed that substandard working conditions are pervasive in the domestic work industry. Wage rates are low, the work is often hazardous, and workers rarely have effective recourse to improve substandard conditions.

  • Low pay is a systemic problem in the domestic work industry.
    • 23 percent of workers surveyed are paid below the state minimum wage.
    • 70 percent are paid less than $13 an hour.
    • 67 percent of live-in workers are paid below the state minimum wage, and the median hourly wage of these workers is $6.15.
    • Using a conservative measure of income adequacy, 48 percent of workers are paid an hourly wage in their primary job that is below the level needed to adequately support a family.
  • Domestic workers rarely receive employment benefits.
    • Less than 2 percent receive retirement or pension benefits from their primary employer.
    • Less than 9 percent work for employers who pay into Social Security.
    • 65 percent do not have health insurance, and only 4 percent receive employer-provided insurance.
  • Domestic workers experience acute financial hardships. Many indicate that their most basic needs go unmet.
    • 60 percent spend more than half of their income on rent or mortgage payments.
    • 37 percent of workers paid their rent or mortgage late during the year prior to being interviewed.
    • 40 percent paid some of their other essential bills late during the same time period.
    • 20 percent report that there were times in the previous month when there was no food to eat in their homes because there was no money to buy any.
  • Domestic workers have little control over their working conditions. Employment is usually arranged without the benefit of a formal contract.
    • Key provisions in standard employment agreements are often absent for domestic workers.
    • 35 percent of domestic workers report that they worked long hours without breaks in the prior 12 months.
    • 25 percent of live-in workers had responsibilities that prevented them from getting at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep at night during the week prior to being interviewed.
    • 30 percent of workers who have a written contract or other agreement report that their employers disregarded at least one of the provisions in the prior 12 months.
    • Among workers who are fired from a domestic work job, 23 percent are fired for complaining about working conditions, and 18 percent are fired for protesting violations of their contract or agreement.
  • Domestic work can be hazardous. Workers risk long-term exposure to toxic chemicals and a range of workplace injuries.
    • 38 percent of workers suffered from work-related wrist, shoulder, elbow, or hip pain in the past 12 months.
    • 31 percent suffered from other soreness and pain in the same period.
    • 29 percent of housecleaners suffered from skin irritation, and 20 percent had trouble breathing in the prior 12 months.
    • 36 percent of nannies contracted an illness while at work in the prior 12 months.
    • 29 percent of caregivers suffered a back injury in the prior 12 months.
  • Domestic workers experience disrespect and abuse on the job.
    • Interviews with domestic workers reveal that they often endure verbal, psychological, and physical abuse on the job – without recourse. Domestic workers, who are unprotected by contracts and laws available to other workers, fear employer retaliation.
    • 91 percent of workers who encountered problems with their working conditions in the prior 12 months did not complain because they were afraid they would lose their job.
    • 85 percent of undocumented immigrants who encountered problems with their working conditions in the prior 12 months did not complain because they feared their immigration status would be used against them.

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