Press Releases

News from EPI Domestic workers are underpaid and more likely to live in poverty

New Economic Policy Institute (EPI) research finds that 2.2 million U.S. domestic workers are underpaid, are more likely to live in poverty than other workers, and are unprotected by U.S. labor laws. Through a series of charts and tables, EPI’s Domestic Worker Chartbook provides a comprehensive look at the demographics, wages, benefits, and poverty rates of the professionals who care for our family members and clean our homes.

“Despite the crucial role that domestic workers play in sustaining quality of life in the United States for millions of people, they continue to face significant economic challenges that underscore just how undervalued their work is,” said Asha Banerjee, EPI economic analyst and co-author of the report. “These workers’ contributions range from keeping our homes clean to providing childcare—including care for children with complex medical needs—and delivering critical services to older adults and people with disabilities to allow them to live independently and thrive in home and community settings.”

The ongoing pandemic and economic recovery serve as the backdrop for this chartbook, with data available through 2021. Key findings include:

  • The vast majority (90.2%) of domestic workers are women; just over half (51.3%) are Black, Hispanic, or Asian American and Pacific Islander women; and they tend to be older than other workers.
  • Though most (65.3%) domestic workers are U.S.-born, they are twice as likely as other U.S. workers to have been born outside the United States.
  • The typical (median) domestic worker is paid $13.79 per hour, much less than other workers (whose median wage is $21.76 per hour). Even when compared with demographically similar workers, domestic workers, on average, are paid just 75 cents for every dollar their peers make.
  • Domestic workers are three times as likely to live in poverty than other workers and almost equally as likely to either be in poverty or above the poverty line but still without sufficient income to make ends meet.
  • An employer-provided retirement plan covers fewer than 1 in 10 domestic workers, and fewer than 1 in 5 receive health insurance coverage through their job.

Many groups of domestic workers are explicitly left out of many federal labor and employment protections—a policy decision dating back to the New Deal, when the majority-Black domestic and farmworker workforces were excluded from the landmark federal labor laws as concessions to racist Southern lawmakers. A critical first step to providing domestic workers with the same protections as other workers is passing a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. This first-of-its-kind legislation would extend and strengthen core workplace protections. Ten states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Virginia), and the cities of Seattle and Philadelphia, have already passed such legislation, and other states and localities should follow suit.

“Domestic workers do the work that makes all other work possible, caring for what’s most important—our loved ones and our homes,” said Jenn Stowe, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “With domestic worker occupations projected to grow at a faster pace than other sectors, the research backs up what we’ve known all along: domestic work is essential, and domestic workers will continue to be the foundation of our society in years to come. This workforce was excluded from worker protections afforded to the vast majority of other sectors under the New Deal, and the effects of this racist decision are still felt to this day. Domestic workers deserve fair wages and essential benefits like paid sick leave, and the National Domestic Workers Alliance will continue fighting to make that a reality by advocating for a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”

National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA) is the leading voice for dignity and fairness for millions of domestic workers in the United States. Founded in 2007, NDWA works for respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers, the majority of whom are immigrants and women of color. NDWA is powered by over 60 affiliate organizations and local chapters and by a growing membership base of nannies, house cleaners and care workers in over 20 states. NDWA has created Alia, an online platform to help domestic workers access benefits, not otherwise granted to them, in addition to proposing a National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights with Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.