It’s Time for a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights

Read Senator Kamala Harris and Rep. Pramila Jayapal on why they’re introducing the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Domestic work is a growing sector. There are over 2 million domestic workers across the United States, who work in individual homes serving millions as caretakers for seniors, people with disabilities, children, and our homes. It’s a large and growing workforce; By 2026, care jobs will constitute one of the fastest growing professions in the country, and we will need more caregivers and nannies than we have ever needed before. Home-based elder care is already the single fastest growing occupation in our entire economy due to the rapidly growing aging population.

Domestic work underpins our economy. Domestic workers who work in individual homes free up the time and attention of millions of working families by caring for our children, our aging parents, our loved ones living with disabilities, and our homes. Domestic work is the work that makes other work possible.

Domestic work is some of the most important work, but too often undervalued. Great caretakers are the key to high quality care. Investing in caretakers and ensuring that they are financially stable, can take care of their own families and feel secure and safe in their jobs allows them to do their best work and provide the highest quality care.

Being a domestic worker too often means living in poverty and tolerating abuse. Caring is inherently personal and intimate work, and takes place behind closed doors. It is work that is often hidden; workplaces are unregistered and unregulated. Studies estimate that domestic workers are paid about $11 per hour, although in practice wages are often lower, and that they have little, if any, access to retirement, health, and other benefits that can reduce economic insecurity for working families. These dynamics create a “wild west” type environment, increasing the vulnerability of these workers. Studies of domestic workers have shown that they have little access to the protections many workers take for granted and they are often afraid to report abuse for fear of retaliation.

And this has gone on for far too long - especially for women of color. As a workforce that is predominantly women and people of color, domestic workers have faced a long history of exclusion from basic labor protections, rooted in the legacy of slavery in America and a perception that care work, traditionally done by women of color, is not “real” work. Domestic workers were historically specifically excluded from federal labor protections like minimum wage, safety and health laws and the right to organize a union. Many laws such as anti-discrimination and harassment laws exclude domestic workers by default, due to the non-traditional nature of the workforce.

States and cities are leading the way, showing that bringing dignity and economic security to domestic work is good for everyone. Nine states and one municipality have passed Domestic Workers Bills of Rights to fix many of these loopholes, strengthen protections, and create new, innovative solutions to the unique nature of domestic work, but there is more work to be done.

Now is the time for a national vision for domestic workers that will fundamentally change the way we value the work of women.