A Close Look at Paid Care Work in NYC

The Paid Care Division of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA), tasked with safeguarding the rights of domestic workers in the city, on March 27 released a report after its first year of existence, “Lifting up Paid Care Work,” which documents the importance of nannies, home care aides and housecleaners in New York’s workforce, and details efforts to ensure that their rights are protected. The report draws on U.S. Census data, as well as findings from 12 focus groups convened with 115 paid care workers. The focus group work was conducted jointly by DCA and Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center and academic director of the Joseph F. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

DCA reports that “over the past decade, the number of New Yorkers reporting a paid care occupation as their primary work grew from 176,000 to 202,000, an increase of 26,000 (15%),” compared with overall workforce growth of 10 percent. Home aides, housekeepers and nannies are “overwhelmingly” low-income women of color, many of them immigrants, the report notes. Indeed, white U.S.-born workers comprise only 2.7 percent of paid care workers, though they make up 26 percent of all New York City workers.

Many factors are driving the growth of employment in paid care, as Milkman notes in her report based on the focus groups, “Making Paid Care Work Visible”. Labor force participation rates have risen “among married women and mothers, which led many households to purchase services in the marketplace that were traditionally performed by women in the home without remuneration.” Rising income inequality has given those wealthier working women the ability to pay for home care. And demand has been spurred, too, by the needs of an aging population with a preference for in-home care.

The focus groups, which included English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Nepali speakers, yielded information and stories that were troubling but perhaps unsurprising. Many women reported that, in addition to being minimum wages, they were invariably asked to do more and more as time went on, were often not paid overtime or given paid sick leave, were disrespected, and that they had no job security. Paid care workers, writes Milkman, “are part of what many commentators today call the ‘precariat’—workers whose future employment is perpetually uncertain and who lack basic social protections.”

DCA’s Paid Care Division is working to highlight the ways in which employers are violating paid care workers’ rights and to model standards for paid care jobs. Last year, the division twice convened a working group of representatives from key stakeholders, including domestic worker leaders and advocates, employers, city agencies, unions, and policy think tanks. They developed a set of standards for the industry that address fair compensation, security and opportunity, health and safety, a dignified work environment, the right to organize and no limits on workers’ rights under the law. DCA has also worked with community organizations to distribute information materials and extend outreach across the city.

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