The COVID-19 Crisis Underscores the Need for Sustainable Domestic Worker Protections

By Adewale Maye

With over 2.2 million house cleaners, care workers, and nannies working in private homes across the country, domestic workers are some of the most essential workers in our economy and homes. These workers—predominantly being workers of color, immigrants, and 91.5 percent being women—are critical in caring for our children, supporting older individuals and people with disabilities, and helping keep our households clean. People doing this work assist in supporting families, and, in many cases, allow working families to become more economically secure and prosper.

However, this prosperity is often at the expense of the health and economic wellbeing of domestic workers who have the fewest labor protections, are paid some of the lowest wages, and work in some of the most isolated environments. These conditions combine to make it particularly hard for domestic workers to assert their rights. Generally speaking, domestic workers are three times as likely to live in poverty or just above the poverty line as compared to other workers. In either case, they rarely have sufficient income to make ends meetOn top of that, a large share of domestic workers also face sexism, racism, and discrimination due to their immigration status.

COVID-19 exacerbates existing threats to the economic livelihoods of domestic workers since many—especially those who provide home care or elder care—are considered essential workers and must continue to work through the pandemic or face high rates of unemployment. In fact, domestic workers may be the most vulnerable among the millions of workers currently unemployed or working in conditions that could endanger their own health or that of their families.