COVID Recovery Must Bring Safety and Security for Domestic Workers, Other Immigrants
By Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change and Community Change Action, and Ai-jen Poo, executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance and director of Caring Across Generations
For many of us during the pandemic, our homes have become the centers of all areas of our lives, rather than the place we leave each day to go to work or school. We have seen with fresh eyes the work that we rely on others for, including cleaning our homes, caring for our children, and caring for our elderly and disabled loved ones. Nannies, house cleaners and home care workers have continued to feed and care for our country’s children, elderly and disabled loved ones, even when doing so puts their own health—and the health of their families—at risk for exposure to the virus.
The people who do the work that makes all other work possible and lift our economy deserve to live full, dignified lives.
Over a century ago, Congress passed labor laws that established minimum wages, workplace rights and protections, and the right to form a union. These laws are the foundation of what we now consider the basic rights and protections that workers deserve. These New Deal labor laws explicitly excluded domestic workers, who at the time were predominantly Black or immigrants, to maintain the socioeconomic status quo.
To this day, domestic care jobs remain poverty jobs and are still disproportionately filled by the most marginalized in our communities. More than 90 percent of this workforce are women, and mostly Black women and other women of color. Domestic workers are more than twice as likely to be a non-citizen immigrant. Domestic workers are three times as likely to live in poverty as other workers are, and almost three times as likely to lack enough income to make ends meet; the median annual earnings for a domestic worker is $15,980.
We now have the opportunity to create the New Deal of our generation as we rebuild out of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. And we have the opportunity to improve on the New Deal of the 1930s which left behind millions of women of color.
There are nearly 23 million essential immigrant workers in the United States, representing nearly one in five individuals within the country’s total essential workforce. Nearly six million temporary, seasonal, and undocumented immigrant essential workers need permanent protections to live and work safely and securely in the United States.
Congress must pass the American Jobs Plan to make care jobs good jobs with better pay, benefits and workplace protections, including the right to unionize. But that’s not enough. Congress must also create a pathway to citizenship for essential workers, including domestic workers and other immigrants without permanent status, so that they can take care of their own families and feel safe and secure in their jobs and their lives, and participate in our recovery without fear of detention and deportation.
We cannot simply return the economy to the pre-pandemic norms. Our national recovery plan must be an inclusive and equitable plan, and it must also include dignity, safety and security for the millions of immigrant essential workers like domestic workers who are performing jobs to keep our country running in times of stability and crisis.