We can’t change what we can’t see
We can’t change what we can’t see

We can’t change what we can’t see
We can’t change what we can’t see

A comprehensive data set on domestic work is essential to the future of equitable care work.

We’ve come a long way. 

When NDWA began, there wasn’t enough national data about domestic workers’ pay and benefits, employment arrangements, and working conditions. In 2012, in an effort to bridge that gap, we published our first report, “Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work”, by Linda Burham – longtime movement leader and mentor to many – and Nik Theodore. Nearly 200 domestic workers and organizers participated in developing, fielding, and interpreting the survey at the heart of this report. 

The Home Economics report analyzed surveys of 2,086 nannies, caregivers, and house cleaners, living in 14 US metropolitan areas and from 71 countries, and were conducted in nine languages. And the findings were stark: 

  • 23% of workers surveyed are paid below the state minimum wage.
  • 20% 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.
  • 91% 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

Over time, more data became available, with analysis from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) published in 2013 and 2020 on the demographics, wages and poverty rates of domestic workers in the US. But this data collection and analysis took years, while domestic worker conditions can change rapidly.

In March of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down nursing homes, cities issued shelter in place orders and we began social distancing, NDWA knew domestic workers would be one of the workforces first and hardest hit. We heard from workers that their employers were canceling jobs, families of care workers were asking them to shelter in place with their client, and it was unclear if workers would be eligible for any government assistance.

We needed a channel through which we could be in continuous conversation with domestic workers, to learn what they were experiencing, at scale.

In the second week of March 2020, La Alianza – an experimental project developed out of NDWA Labs – asked thousands of Spanish-speaking domestic workers online: “Are you worried about coronavirus?” Nearly 5,000  of them responded “Si, mucho.” 

That day, we began an online conversation with Spanish-speaking domestic workers that continues today. La Alianza asks workers questions that range from their food and housing security, to workplace conditions, to emerging health and safety concerns like Monkeypox. We offer information and resources in response to the answers, ranging from local food banks in their area, to COVID vaccination sites, to average wages or worker rights and protections that are in effect in their area. And, we share domestic worker stories, so workers know they are not alone.

“…the domestic worker community is so important to me. They’ve helped fill the gap in our knowledge about [my husband]’s rights as a domestic worker and of our rights as immigrants. I’m proud to be a part of this work. They’ve helped me and my family find our voice and transformed me into an advocate for workers’ rights.” 

— Marie, domestic worker advocate & former domestic worker 

This cycle of sharing information with one another in online conversation has built a rich data set, and a relationship with workers who continue to talk to us. In 2021 we received 62,000 completed surveys, from 13,000 individual workers, many of which were from workers completing their second, third or fourth survey.

We regularly publish our survey data, through monthly Domestic Workers’ Economic Situation, and reports responding to current issues such as the impact of coronavirus on domestic workers, and access to the COVID-19 vaccine. Our reports have been covered by Bloomberg, Al Jazeera and MarketWatch and have become a key resource used by NDWA’s campaigns, communications and policy teams. We have also collaborated with academics at Berkeley and Harvard, including co-authoring a peer-reviewed paper on domestic workplace hazards.

One worker said of the surveys during the pandemic: “They gave us life…I felt that we do have a say in this place, that we were not as invisible.” 

We can’t change what we can’t see. And today, we see more, and more quickly, than we have ever before. We see that Spanish-speaking domestic workers are returning to work more slowly than the rest of the economy, we see that domestic workers still need a safety net as they worry about job cancellations as a result of new outbreaks, and we see that there are many ways to reach workers in the margins.