Melissa had been working as a home health aide for a 95-year-old senior citizen for a year when on a recent Monday she was summoned by the woman’s daughter. The south Floridian, who worked overnight shifts daily preparing the senior’s meals, combing her hair, and helping with her medications, was told her last work day would be that Friday. She was out of a job due to concerns over the novel coronavirus crisis.
While unemployment claims have reached record-breaking numbers as families everywhere are losing work due to the pandemic, those numbers don’t include domestic workers, like Melissa, who are being let go by their clients, sometimes after years of service. “My job just stopped like that,” she said on Wednesday during a press call hosted by the National Domestic Workers Alliance. She knows others who’ve lost their clients too. “They’re all in the same situation as me.”
National Domestic Workers Alliance executive director Ai-jen Poo said during the press call that domestic workers have been among the most hard-hit amid this pandemic, as “some of the first to experience loss of work and income.” In fact, new survey data shared by the organization of 16,000 Spanish-speaking housekeepers, nannies, and home aides and received by Daily Kos revealed that a devastating number of these workers have experienced sudden job loss in recent weeks.
“80% of respondents with a high volume of work (more than 10 jobs per week) either had no work for the following week, or had lost at least half of their jobs for the following week,” the survey said. 94% said their clients canceled on them due to novel coronavirus concerns, with 70% saying they have no idea if they’ll be able to go back to work after this crisis ends. Many are now panicking about food and housing security: 77% of respondents said they are their household’s primary breadwinner.
“To this end, the National Domestic Workers Alliance has been working around the clock to address the concerns and fears of domestic workers across the country,” the group said in a statement received by Daily Kos. According to Poo, the organization’s Coronavirus Care Fund is close to hitting its $4 million fundraising goal, with 2,500 applications submitted seeking economic relief. The organization has also launched two other programs designed to help keep caregivers safe and match caregivers with peer coaches for emotional and practical support.
While these three solutions will help provide much-needed support to workers, advocates on the call stressed the need for the federal government to step up. As it stands now, recent novel coronavirus packages passed by Congress largely shut out undocumented workers, many of whom work as housekeepers, nannies, and home care aides. While advocates on the call said they will be pushing economic relief for undocumented workers at the state level, pressure must continue on Congress to include these families. “We need relief and protections for domestic workers,” Poo said.
This relief is needed now. Melissa said during the call that after a year of working in a home where she truly felt she belonged, she doesn’t know if she’ll be able to return. She hasn’t heard from the woman’s daughter since leaving. While she was able to get some assistance from a local organization, it doesn’t replace the steady income she once had coming in. The fridge is bare, and rent will be due again in just a few weeks. “Every day I have to think about the next day will bring,” she said.
“Millions of nannies, house cleaners, and home care workers are losing their paychecks or even their jobs during this pandemic, exacerbating existing inequalities. This further demonstrates how low-wage workers are the hardest hit during any crisis,” Poo said. “Many domestic workers are the primary income earners for their families, and the majority of them are women of color and immigrants. Losing work, especially for a prolonged period of time, could mean putting their family’s safety and financial security in serious jeopardy. We need to remember domestic workers in this moment of crisis and make sure they receive the support they need.”