Press Releases | Coronavirus

News from EPI Domestic workers are underpaid and unprotected by labor law during the coronavirus pandemic

New EPI research finds that the United States’ 2.2 million domestic workers are underpaid, more likely to live in poverty than other workers, and are unprotected by U.S. labor law. Through 19 charts and 13 tables, EPI’s new Domestic worker chartbook is a comprehensive look at the demographics, wages, benefits, and poverty rates of the professionals who care for our family members and clean our homes.

“Domestic workers are on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, caring for the sick, watching children, and keeping homes clean. They are providing essential work to families during this difficult time,” said Julia Wolfe, one of the report’s coauthors. “However, domestic workers, who are almost all women and mostly women of color, face poverty at much higher rates and are paid significantly less than comparable workers.”

Although the pandemic serves as the backdrop for this chartbook, only data from before the pandemic was available at the time of analysis. This chartbook serves to illustrate a snapshot of domestic workers in the pre-coronavirus period.

Key findings include:

  • The vast majority (91.5%) of domestic workers are women and just over half are black, Hispanic, or Asian American/Pacific Islander women.
  • Though most (64.9% of) domestic workers are U.S.-born, they are more likely than other workers to have been born outside the U.S. and they tend to be older than other workers.
  • The typical domestic worker is paid $12.01 per hour. Even when compared with demographically similar workers, domestic workers on average are paid just 74 cents for every dollar that their peers make.
  • Domestic workers are three times as likely to be living in poverty as other workers.
  • Fewer than one in 10 domestic workers are covered by an employer-provided retirement plan and just one in five receives 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 majority-black domestic and farmworkers were excluded from landmark federal labor laws as a concession 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. In addition to extending basic wage and hour protections to domestic workers, such a measure would include key provisions establishing fair scheduling (i.e., no unexpected shift cancellations or changes without warning or compensation), transparent employment contracts, and access to health care and retirement benefits for domestic workers.

“The pandemic has shown that a strong, resilient care economy is critical to the way we live and work. Domestic workers have always ensured the safety and well-being of the people most vulnerable to illness, including older people and people with chronic illnesses. The research reveals that even before the pandemic, domestic workers faced significant challenges. They have done this crucial work largely without fair pay, affordable healthcare, or paid time off,” said Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “Domestic work is essential work and it can no longer be undervalued or remain unseen. As we identify solutions to address the public health and economic crisis, we must ensure that domestic workers receive support right now.”

Nine states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, and Oregon) and the cities of Seattle and Philadelphia have already passed Domestic Workers Bills 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.

See related work on Unions and Labor Standards | Coronavirus