Domestic Workers Are Scrambling for Work in the Age of Coronavirus

Domestic Workers Are Scrambling for Work in the Age of Coronavirus

The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing measures put in place to slow it has been immense. The country is looking at a possible unemployment rate unseen since the Great Depression. Bartenders, servers, salon, and retail workers are suddenly jobless, and the economy’s overall contraction means more layoffs coming. Many of those losing jobs will qualify for unemployment, but there’s another group suffering: household help.

The New York Times reports that nannies, housekeepers, and other domestic workers, many of whom are undocumented, are rapidly losing work. While some wealthy homeowners are continuing to pay their employees–even while telling them to stay home–many aren’t, leaving workers out in the cold. The Times spoke to Mayra Brito, who worked as a Spanish tutor and nanny for two families, both of whom told her to stop coming:

Ms. Brito had worked for one of the families for two years, the other for six months. In letting her go without confirming if or when she might have a job again, one set of parents said they were concerned about the health of their youngest child, a 9-month-old baby. The other said they wanted to keep the children’s aging grandparents who live with them safe.
“I understand their reasons,” Ms. Brito said, “But what I don’t understand is why they didn’t say, ‘We’re going to pay you at least half while you’re at home because we’re not letting you work.’”

There is this particularly egregious detail:

She has since fielded requests from one of the families to do video calls because their children miss her. The parents did not offer to compensate her for the calls.

Another woman, Patricia Toriz, told the Times she lost all three of her jobs: cleaning two families’ houses and working at a restaurant. Her financial situation is dire:

“I’m a trustworthy person, who goes to clean and leaves,” she said of the families. “I have known them for years, but unfortunately, because of all this, they made the decision that they want me out of their house.”

Toriz’s children, with whom she lives, also lost their jobs due to the virus, and now money is tight:

On a recent day, the family packed into the car to buy bread, bologna, milk and eggs. “Only the cheapest things possible,” Ms. Toriz said. “We’re not spending anything extra. We can’t.”

Many people are struggling in this period, and those who are earning less during lockdowns may eventually tighten their belts, which will probably hurt household help down the line. But right at this very moment, when people with enough cash to hire nannies and housekeepers are generally working from home—and can, therefore, watch their own children and clean their own homes like everybody else—it seems like the least they can do is continue to shell out the wages they were going pay anyway, particularly when they’re the ones mandating their employees stay home.

But what kind of country would this be if people with means thought about those with less?

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