This report documents serious and widespread mistreatment of domestic workers – nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers – in the United States. They are underpaid, in many cases less than the minimum wage, and often at levels too low to adequately care for their own families. They are almost universally excluded from coverage by labor laws and usually work without a contract or any kind of agreement, written or oral, with their employers. They often perform work that is physically punishing, involving heavy lifting, long hours, and exposure to potentially harmful cleaning products.


Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work presents the
results of the first national survey of domestic workers in the US. It breaks new ground by
providing an empirically based and representative picture of domestic employment in 21st
century America.

We asked a sample of domestic workers a standardized set of questions
focusing in four aspects of the industry:

  • pay rates, benefits, and their impact on the lives of workers and their
  • employment arrangements and employers’ compliance with employment
  • workplace conditions, on-the-job injuries, and access to health care;
  • abuse at work and the ability to remedy substandard conditions.

We surveyed 2,086 nannies, caregivers, and housecleaners in 14 metropolitan areas. The
survey was conducted in nine languages. Domestic workers from 71 countries were
interviewed. The study employed a participatory methodology in which 190 domestic workers
and organizers from 34 community organizations collaborated in survey design, the fielding
of the survey, and the preliminary analysis of the data.

Summary of Findings

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.

Domestic workers rarely receive employment benefits.

Less than 2 percent receive retirement or pension benefits from
their primary employer.

Domestic workers experience acute financial hardships.

Many indicate that their most basic needs go unmet.

Domestic workers have little control over their working conditions.

Employment is usually arranged without the benefit of a formal

Domestic work can be hazardous.

Workers risk long-term exposure to toxic chemicals and a range of workplace injuries.

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

Summary of Recommendations

The report offers a set of recommendations that could transform the working
conditions of domestic workers. Action is required on several fronts:

  • We must enact and enforce policies that rectify the exclusion of
    domestic workers from employment and labor laws. Among these
    protections are the right to organize, earn the minimum wage, get
    paid for overtime, take regular rest and meal periods, claim workers’
    compensation and unemployment insurance, have healthy and safe
    work environments, and have effective remedies for discrimination,
    abuse, and harassment.
  •  Employers can be a significant part of the solution if they educate
    themselves about workers’ rights and hold themselves accountable
    to fair labor standards. Employers should be prepared to provide
    domestic workers with a contractual agreement, fair wages
    including overtime pay and regular pay raises, access to affordable
    medical care, secure retirement income, paid leave, and a safe and
    healthy work environment.
  • We must create a more equitable economic environment for all lowwage workers.
    It is difficult to advocate for the rights of domestic
    workers in an economic and political environment in which the rights
    of low-wage workers more broadly are so badly frayed.
  • We also need to offer social support to families with caregiving
    responsibilities. Families scramble to craft individual solutions to
    manage the competing priorities of home, work, and family.

We have the opportunity to improve, materially and substantially, the conditions of a critical
and especially vulnerable sector of our labor force. Both in the US and globally, a domestic
workers’ movement for rights and respect has been steadily gaining strength.


Research Team

National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is the nation’s leading voice for
domestic workers, most of whom are immigrant women and women of color.

Domestic Workers United (DWU) is a membership-based organization of nannies,
housecleaners, and elder caregivers in New York who are organizing for power, respect, fair labor standards,
and to help build a movement for social change.

Instituto de Educación Popular del Sur de California (IDEPSCA) is a non-profit organization whose
mission is to create a more humane and democratic society by responding to the needs and problems of
disenfranchised people through leadership development and educational programs based on Popular
Education methodology.

La Colectiva de Mujeres (Women’s Collective) seeks to achieve economic and social justice for Latina
immigrant women, regardless of their immigration status.

Center for Urban Economic Development (CUED) of the University of Illinois at Chicago was established
in 1978 to analyze urban economic change and its effects on low- and moderate-income communities.

DataCenter is a national research and training organization for social justice movements and grassroots