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58% of domestic workers spend more than half their income on rent
September 15, 2013 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Home Truths: Domestic Workers in California (PDF). 2012's groundbreaking National Domestic Worker Survey was conducted in 14 cities; the sample analyzed in this report includes 631 domestic workers (nannies, caregivers, housecleaners) in four metropolitan areas in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose.

"Additionally, most California domestic workers (88%) surveyed are not granted paid sick leave, nor are they even given unpaid time off to see a doctor (78%). In fact, many report that they risk losing their job if they ask for or take time off. Of the workers who were fired from a domestic-work job, 22% were fired for missing work to take care of themselves or a family member." The director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Ai-jen Poo, also helped lead a protest for immigration reform at Capitol Hill on September 12.
posted by spamandkimchi (131 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
I forgot to include the fact that the researchers used participatory methodology because there is so little actual data on domestic workers.
Domestic workers and organizers from community organizations collaborated in survey design, the fielding of the survey, and the preliminary analysis of the data. Surveyors were extensively trained in their native languages (English, Spanish, Tagalog, Mandarin, and Cantonese) to recruit and survey participants.

Surveyors also went to parks, transportation hubs, churches, and shopping centers to ask nannies, housecleaners, and caregivers about working conditions in private households.
posted by spamandkimchi at 10:54 AM on September 15, 2013


Domestic workers – nannies, caregivers, and house-cleaners – play a significant role in the California economy, yet their work is excluded from basic protections afforded to most of the US work force. Domestic workers are excluded from the federal right to organize and bargain collectively, and they are not protected by workplace health or safety laws. Many are also excluded from workers’ compensation, rights to overtime pay, meal breaks, rest breaks, and anti-discrimination laws.

Funny how those two things -- exemptions from legal protection and exploitation -- go hand in hand....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:17 AM on September 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Having employed a nanny, I am not surprised. There are a few factors at work here. The people employing these people are not big companies with group health plans. If you have a nanny, that's likely your only employee. You aren't running a corporation, you just need someone to watch your kids so you can go to work. I know people are going to be thinking "these people can afford nannies, clearly they have lots of money." And that's sort of true but sort of not. If you make $150,000/year and are spending $30,000 of that money on a nanny's salary, it's hardly some insignificant bill. And if your nanny calls in sick, then what do you do? Call in sick yourself to watch your kids? Take the kids to some "backup" location? You may or may not have this arranged. Even if you do, if you're paying the nanny for that day, you're now paying double for the day because you're also paying the daycare or wherever your kids are. And a nanny missing more than a few days due to sickness is going to get fired because nannying is not something you can catch up on when you get back from being sick. A nanny, above all, needs to be reliable, because the people paying them need to be able to know they can go to work.

I mean, sure, a lot of these people are underpaid, but given that the typical employer for these people is really a dual-income upper-middle class family probably making $100-250k/year, there is only so much you can really expect these employers to do. They're not going to offer $50k/year plus two weeks paid vacation and sick time. To offer all the benefits we associate with a "good job" requires you to have more than one employee, so that someone can cover when their co-worker is sick or on vacation. Not many people can afford or even want to hire two nannies. If you've got a department with 15 people doing similar work, 1 person can be sick for a week and the other 14 can pick up the slack. When you've got *one* nanny, and they're sick for a week, then you run out of options really fast, because the employer in this situation *needs* the nanny so that they themselves can go to work.

I know these salaries are low and the benefits suck, but I just don't see how this is going to change given the nature of this kind of work. I gave my nanny 5 holidays off a year, plus five floating PTO days that could be used for sickness or vacation time. I feel like this was more than typical, too. I didn't give her health insurance or a 401k or any of those sorts of perks, because I am just a regular person. Besides, the nanny was already, by far, my biggest expense besides my mortgage. I could have gone and bought a second house for what it cost to employ a nanny, even with crappy benefits.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:22 AM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can't find a way to politely say that you shouldn't have ever expected to hire a nanny in the first place if it was predicated on giving someone a bad wage and reduced benefits, but I just can't figure it out.
posted by mobunited at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2013 [46 favorites]


Look, I see what you're saying, but ultimately those are all excuses, of the same kind that regular employers use when they try to duck employment law. If you can't afford to give your domestic workers the same benefits other workers get, you can't afford domestic workers. If you hire them anyway, you're just pushing those expenses off onto the rest of society, and as part of the rest of society, I don't appreciate that. Clean your own house / do your own yard / raise your own kids.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:29 AM on September 15, 2013 [40 favorites]


If you make $150,000/year and are spending $30,000 of that money on a nanny's salary

Did you read the article? Most domestic care workers are not making anywhere near $30k a year. Quote from page 7: 25 percent of domestic workers are paid below the California minimum wage, the result of a combination of poorly delineated tasks, long workdays, and low pay. Using a conservative measure of income adequacy, 61% of workers are paid an hourly wage at their primary job that is below the level needed to adequately support a family.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:30 AM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I mean, sure, a lot of these people are underpaid, but given that the typical employer for these people is really a dual-income upper-middle class family probably making $100-250k/year, there is only so much you can really expect these employers to do.

I appreciate your situation, but isn't this kind of allowing your need to justify exploiting others? It's almost like the way that many large business avoid responsibility for regulatory violation by not ordering anyone into violations but setting up situations where the only way to meet quota is for local management to cut corners (and take the heat, should it come) -- with you as the local manager.

One of the obvious answers to part of this is universal medical care. Then small and solo employers are not given this particular vicious choice.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:31 AM on September 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


[One comment deleted. I understand this pushes people's buttons but being nasty is not ok. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2013


I appreciate your situation, but isn't this kind of allowing your need to justify exploiting others?

I said, "I can pay you $10/hr, for 40 hours a week. You also get the downstairs bedroom, bathroom and private entrance. You get five paid holidays and five floating days off. Would you like the job?"

When she said "yes" you think it would have been more ethical of me to say, "sorry, on second thought, since I can't give you health insurance too, I think I'll rescind the offer, quit my job so I can stay home with my daughter myself, lose my own health insurance and eventually my house, and we can all be unemployed and homeless together."?

Think about what you're actually suggesting.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Not to pile on, but this honestly makes no sense to me. You're firing your nanny when she gets sick because she's not "reliable?" Would you rather she come in and get your kid sick? Or would you rather she come in and make herself even sicker by not being able to rest? I don't understand this definition of "reliable." I'm sure that all things being equal, she'd rather come in and work than be sick.

Get to work inventing robot nannies.
posted by altopower at 11:39 AM on September 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


tylerkaraszewski, all due respect, you're making this thread all about you right off the bat, and I think if you'd read the article, you'd find your situation is not really the norm for many reasons. Please consider stepping back.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 11:40 AM on September 15, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's not clear to me how such often informal and under the table industries are regulated without regulating the opportunities for work away.

Look, I see what you're saying, but ultimately those are all excuses, of the same kind that regular employers use when they try to duck employment law. If you can't afford to give your domestic workers the same benefits other workers get, you can't afford domestic workers. If you hire them anyway, you're just pushing those expenses off onto the rest of society, and as part of the rest of society, I don't appreciate that. Clean your own house / do your own yard / raise your own kids.

Is it really better to clean your own house / do your own yard / raise your own kids when you can hire someone else to do it for a wage that you both agree upon? This frees up your time to do things like make more money and expand the economy, and simultaneously redistributes that money directly to a person willing to work for it. Sanctimonious work rules not only shame such employers, they deprive workers of opportunities to earn money.

Who needs immigration reform when work rules discourage immigration altogether? Or is that the whole point?
posted by 2N2222 at 11:42 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Think about what you're actually suggesting.

I was thinking more about the "oh, and, if you or a family member get sick, I will have no problem firing you (and, apparently leaving you homeless), because that will inconvenience me." implications in your original comment. I get the problem, but your "solution" is inhumane, and only possible because the employment situation is so dire.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


I actually worked as a nanny for a while. I got paid about $10/hour, and while I didn't get health insurance, I was secure knowing that these parents wouldn't fire me if I got sick. I feel terrible for all the nannies and other domestic employees out there without that security.
posted by altopower at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


[And TPS is right; let's try to bring this train back onto the tracks of talking about the actual article rather than debating tylerkaraszewski's situation specifically.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:47 AM on September 15, 2013


tylerkaraszewski, all due respect, you're making this thread all about you right off the bat, and I think if you'd read the article, you'd find your situation is not really the norm for many reasons. Please consider stepping back.

I didn't mean to do that. I shared my own story and people jumped on it. I'm just saying, there's only so much that people are able or willing to afford to pay for these services. If childcare or housecleaning are too expensive, people will stop paying for them, and the jobs will disappear altogether. Is that better? The choice to most people is not between cheap housecleaning and expensive housecleaning, but cheap house landing and doing it yourself. Similarly with childcare, it's a choice between a nanny you can afford or a group daycare situation. What can we really expect to happen?
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


You know what people do when they can't afford to have a private nanny for just their kids? They SHARE a nanny. I know one group of families who clubbed together to hire one nanny (and thus could pay a lot more - and they made more like 50k per household per year). The other way is that someone will run a small daycare out of their home, and thus have children from several families. My mom did this for years; most of the kids were from families who (again) couldn't afford to have paid for a nanny just for their kids, but could afford to pay for sharing one.

Having a private nanny is a luxury. Working class & actually median income households share nannies.
posted by jb at 11:50 AM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


The idea that unless I can hire a nanny with bad terms everyone will be in a bad way excludes the idea that we can instead contribute to child care through collective services and co-ops that offer more stable employment to people who work there, are more affordable and discourage class segregation. This last bit is critical, because it drives a general demand for accessible childcare that can drive social change.
posted by mobunited at 11:52 AM on September 15, 2013 [19 favorites]


I live in Rhode Island. One of the things to do with historically-minded guests is to go to Newport and look at some of the summer mansions built in the Gilded Age by (mostly) New York elite. They are pretty much all museums now, not because no one could afford to buy them, but because workers got enough rights and wages rose enough that no one could afford to staff such huge houses. Not even for the summers (apparently, for such a house, you had a very small permanent staff, and then you would hire a full crew for the summer, people who had to make enough in 3-4 months to survive the rest of the year when the jobs dried up). The better tours don't shy away from these facts and are pretty open that the staff had not-great lives.

I am not sure recreating the Gilded Age, despite the obvious attractions for many, is in the best interest of the population as a whole. And this aching hole of not-well- or un-documented domestic labor is a real problem in our social fabric. It never seems to get fixed, because it's way too entrenched -- our agricultural system depends on it also -- and it makes money for too many people. And not just on the individual level; society as a whole needs this system. The idea that health care and child care should be solely the burden of individuals has gone a long way toward building a system that is inhumane to many, many people at various levels in the chain.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:55 AM on September 15, 2013 [32 favorites]


a) what's wrong with group daycare? Large daycares are highly regulated and the staff are well-trained.

b) not all group daycares are large. When working as a nanny, my mom never looked after more than 2 children under 6, and 4 schoolage (including her own two). When my niece needed care - and she is disabled as well - we found a liscensed childcare provider who had 1-2 other children she looked after. We paid $5/hour, but she made $10-15/hour.
posted by jb at 11:56 AM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And just because so many people are addressing me specifically, I ultimately laid off the nanny and put my daughter in a group daycare/preschool environment, which is much more affordable for me. I don't plan to discuss my own situation further in this thread. MeMail me if you really want to talk about it.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:00 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The idea that a bad job or a job without benefits is better than no job at all is much of the reason that *most* wage jobs are turning into various species of temporary, under-the-table, or benefits-free jobs. The idea that making an under-the-table deal to get what you want at the price you want somehow makes you a good person, even a hero...that's the standard-issue, pro-plutocracy "job creators" rhetoric in slightly newer clothes. No one hires someone unless they imagine that they are getting more back than they put in at some level.

The back-patting about "job creators" is a way such people rationalize seizing on their economic advantage and getting to pretend it's somehow done for charitable purposes, the generous grant of a social good or a leg up. But they'd better not get sick, or ask for more down the line, or they're either unaffordable (once they want a bit more security in their lives) or ungrateful (once they notice that they do, indeed, provide a worthwhile service that might be worth more compensation or some basic security against disaster).

Similarly, the ideas floated above about individuals negotiating in good faith and/or immigration and labor tends to privilege those with the greater economic power in the arrangement, and ultimately creates a race for the bottom on wages, benefits, and the rest. For all that's said about immigration reform, amnesty, and the like, there's a big elephant in the room regarding the undermining of minimum wage and legally mandated benefits. Those aren't anti-immigrant policies, they're socially essential policies to ensure that doing unskilled labor doesn't equate to a poverty trap or to large-scale, preventable social costs.
posted by kewb at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2013 [28 favorites]


No one hires someone unless they imagine that they are getting more back than they put in at some level.

This is the problem with Capitalism in a nutshell. Without strong regulation, Capitalists will chew up and spit out everyone else. With regulation, Capitalists spend their time and energy trying to overturn regulation. Every capitalist relationship has the Capitalist getting more out of each Worker than that worker is worth; that is where profit comes from. Society has a very strong interest in seeing the exploitation kept to a sustainable level because the only other choice is misery that grown until there is a Revolution, which may well end in more misery. The Capitalist answer to that is assuming that you will die before it happens, which is not exactly a long-term solution....
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:15 PM on September 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


I was surprised to see the article state that many domestic workers are excluded from worker's comp. It was my understanding that if you have a household employee in California, you are required to carry worker's comp as an addition to your homeowners/renter's insurance.

Indeed, we were in a nanny share situation like the one described by jb above, and when our nanny slipped and fell and hit her head on the corner of a dining chair, requiring an ambulance to the ER, a CT scan, stitches, etc., etc., the worker's comp coverage picked up the entire bill as an on-the-job injury. Which was fortunate, because it turns out she earned too much as our nanny to qualify for Medi-cal.

There are going to be better and worse employers, just like in all employment situations. I am not trying to excuse poor treatment in any way, just saying that not every domestic employee is exploited. Our nanny got between $22 and $25/hour, depending on how many kids were in the share. We gave her all Federal holidays plus ten paid vacation days and five sick days. And when her daughter became gravely ill and tragically died, we found a temp nanny for three months so that she could have some time off to grieve, and then she came back to her old job. Because we were really clear that this is the person who is caring for our children, and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, universal health care and better parental leave policies would go a long way to improving a lot of this.
posted by ambrosia at 12:19 PM on September 15, 2013 [18 favorites]


I can't find a way to politely say that you shouldn't have ever expected to hire a nanny in the first place if it was predicated on giving someone a bad wage and reduced benefits, but I just can't figure it out.

Maybe that's true, but on the other hand, you wouldn't have to say it if people weren't willing to work for that level of pay.
posted by gjc at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2013


I look forward into diving into this study.

So tyler, what you are saying that having nannies is morally untenable?
posted by eustatic at 12:25 PM on September 15, 2013


tylerkaraszewski: " I could have gone and bought a second house for what it cost to employ a nanny, even with crappy benefits."

This shouldn't really be surprising; a family with a private nanny is the sole employer for that person and that person needs to house, clothe, and feed and otherwise take care of themselves and their family with that income after they pay taxes on the income. It would be shocking if one couldn't support a second residence with that expense because one wouldn't be loosing a portion to income tax.
posted by Mitheral at 12:27 PM on September 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is the problem with Capitalism in a nutshell. Without strong regulation, Capitalists will chew up and spit out everyone else. With regulation, Capitalists spend their time and energy trying to overturn regulation. Every capitalist relationship has the Capitalist getting more out of each Worker than that worker is worth; that is where profit comes from. Society has a very strong interest in seeing the exploitation kept to a sustainable level because the only other choice is misery that grown until there is a Revolution, which may well end in more misery. The Capitalist answer to that is assuming that you will die before it happens, which is not exactly a long-term solution....

Capitalism doesn't cause corruption. Human nature causes corruption, and any political system will be corrupted by it. Revolutions just change who benefits from the corruption.

Also, you misunderstand capitalism. At its base, BOTH sides profit from the transaction. The worker has more time than money, and the employer has more money than time. They trade what they have for what they need. Both sides benefit.

Now, that's not saying both sides benefit equally, nor that everything is fair. There is always room for improvement.
posted by gjc at 12:32 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Worth noting:

'Modern-day Mary Poppins': College graduates embrace nannying as career

Experts say young women like Barletta make up a fast-growing segment of the nanny industry: college graduates who could go into law, medicine or other fields but are choosing to become career nannies, sometimes because they struggled to find jobs in their desired professions. These highly-credentialed child minders are being greeted with open arms into middle-class and upper-class families who want to give their kids an edge in an increasingly competitive world.

...Experts say they have seen a rise in highly-educated applicants at nanny agencies since the Great Recession.

...In many places across the country, some families are so eager for well-educated nannies, they’re paying them salaries comparable to entry-level finance careers.

posted by charlie don't surf at 12:44 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


There are going to be better and worse employers, just like in all employment situations. I am not trying to excuse poor treatment in any way, just saying that not every domestic employee is exploited.

This is true, but the problem is that, because nannying and other domestic employment are so underregulated, the nanny depends to a much greater extent on having ethical employers and the employers have a lot more room to exploit.

Many restaurant owners do care about food safety, but we don't get rid of food safety laws.
posted by jeather at 12:47 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


because nannying and other domestic employment are so underregulated, the nanny depends to a much greater extent on having ethical employers and the employers have a lot more room to exploit.

But even many of the existing regulations go unenforced- minimum wage, workers' comp,overtime, etc. Which is why I suggested that immigration reform would help, because those who are currently the most vulnerable to exploitation would hopefully be able to change that (which would also extend, naturally, to the food industry.)
posted by ambrosia at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2013


Capitalism doesn't cause corruption. Human nature causes corruption, and any political system will be corrupted by it. Revolutions just change who benefits from the corruption.

Bullets, I am also told, don't kill people....

In a capitalist system, workers benefit to the degree that there is no other option. Capitalists, by definition, cannot produce anything -- all they have is capital. It's the Worker that creates value. Profit arises from the gap in value produced and wages paid. The whole "we are not in the business of making steel; we are in the business of making money" quote makes this pretty clear.

Now, it's not that Capitalism is an utterly unworkable system for many people on a personal level, but it does rely on things like a large body of under-paid and -protected people to make the system work. When profit has to be squeeze out of everything, every layer has to pay the most and be paid the least for the system to prosper. It's not really built for long-term sustainability or a decent life for all. The gaps must be exploited.
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also meant to add, jeather, that I totally agree that domestic employees are ripe for exploitation, as they are largely invisible, and enforcement would be very expensive, as opposed to employers with a larger number of employees.
posted by ambrosia at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


And if your nanny calls in sick, then what do you do? Call in sick yourself to watch your kids? Take the kids to some "backup" location?

Actually, this is exactly what some acquaintances of mine do. They have great sick leave benefits, and so they "pass that on" to their nanny by using them when she's too sick to come to work. This should be built into the system. And anyone that doesn't have a 'backup' location is pretty silly. Lots of stuff can happen--what if your nanny's on the way to work and there is a car wreck or some other emergency?

Too damn bad there isn't a domestic workers union.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:05 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


A central problem leading to exploitation is the feeling of financial constraint that tylerkaraszewski raises as necessitating employers of domestic workers not providing them with benefits or good wages. Surveys show that 72% of Americans who have between $1-5 million in wealth feel that they are not wealthy, but are instead suffering from financial constraints.

Basically, even those in the richest 1% compare themselves to people with more money, struggle to keep up with the Jonses, and worry about their financial futures. So if the criterion for giving domestic workers a living wage, sick leave, vacation days, and benefits is that these be considered options that employers provide only if they do not not feel financially constrained, we'll wind up with the situation we find ourselves in now. Because a vanishingly small proportion of employers of domestic workers feel they can afford such "luxuries" as providing benefits to their employees.

I can't see the situation changing until paying a living wage and providing benefits to all employees is made mandatory as a condition of hiring them.
posted by DrMew at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


This is true, but the problem is that, because nannying and other domestic employment are so underregulated, the nanny depends to a much greater extent on having ethical employers and the employers have a lot more room to exploit.

Additionally, even the "kindly employer," however rare, gets drafted as an excuse not to raise or enforce minimum wage laws, regulate and standardize benefits, and avoid establishing a guaranteed minimum income or socialized health care coverage. They become "proof" that good employers can occasionally exist without any of these things, so we don't need to make sure they happen.

And thus the actual costs of such benefits, especially insurance plans and health services, continually grow whenever only a very few people do all of these things on their own, and more generally these growing costs can contribute to increasing personal and household expenses for everyone. All of this makes it harder and harder for any particular "good employer" or even "well-intentioned employer" to keep providing or in some cases even begin to provide small-scale, private analogues of these sorts of social programs and worker benefits for their particular employee(s).

For all the stick tylerkaraszewski has gotten for apparently rationalizing away an inability to provide health insurance and sick leave to the nanny, it's worth remembering that part of the problem is that the failure to socialize and regulate helps keep that package very expensive for particular households. Stretching your work benefits to cover the sickness or absence someone working for you with no automatic benefits of their own means that *your benefits* do less for you over time. Even many of those who are willing to make up for the lack of a real safety net eventually get priced out of doing so, and the overall norm shifts slowly away from providing such things to any hourly and domestic service workers. Naturally, this privileges the much larger number of employers who don't want to do any of it anyway.
posted by kewb at 1:07 PM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Quebec has publicly-funded $7/day daycare. It turns out that due to increased productivity, leading to increased tax income, the government gets more back than it puts in.

I can only conclude that it is utterly stupid to not have publicly-funded low cost daycare.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2013 [30 favorites]


Individual employers like tylerkaraszewski (and even wealthier families who could conceivably pay for health care for their nannies) aren't the actual cause of the problem. The source of the problem is an economic and social system that refuses to provide access to affordable, quality health care and childcare for all, regardless of who they happened to be employed by.
posted by scody at 1:44 PM on September 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


Quebec has publicly-funded $7/day daycare. It turns out that due to increased productivity, leading to increased tax income, the government gets more back than it puts in.

I can only conclude that it is utterly stupid to not have publicly-funded low cost daycare.


This point makes it pretty unforgivable that so many posters jumped on tylerkaraszewski, or anyone else daring to employ a domestic without knowing specifically of any egregiously exploitative practices being foisted, because the same result was likely: increased productivity, tax income, in addition to employment for domestic worker.

Despite all the wishful thinking for a system that we don't have, people still have to work with the system as it is.

Perhaps one obstacle here is that the median hourly wage still worked out to $10. Especially if you're not legally residing in the US, $10/hr cash money looks better than a guarantee of minimum wage + obligation to pay payroll taxes.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:08 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just a tip for anyone contemplating hiring a nanny -- offering health insurance is a good deal, if you're planning to pay on the books. Health insurance is not taxed, for or your employee. So you save a lot of tax dollars on both sides of the transaction by paying for it on their behalf. Especially if you get an HSA eligable plan.

Most, of the candidates we interviewed preferred to be paid under the table, in many cases insisting on it to the point that they wouldn't take the job because we insisted on paying on the books. They don't especially want to pay payroll taxes. Offering health insurance, food benefits, mileage re-imbursement, etc were the only way we could come close to offering a take home pay even close to what other families were offering under the table.

The going rate around here is $500 a week take home -- $26,000 per year. The employer's out of pocket cost for that take home pay? $33,591.19 per year. Now add $100 per day to pay for a back-up nanny, with our agency, per day of paid leave. Call it $600 (we gave six personal/six days on top of the 12 paid holidays per year that our employer gave us). About $800 for worker's comp insurance, which was, yes, mandatory. And about $1,600 for health insurance (which we tried to offer, per the reasons above.) Plus about $700 per year for a payroll service to handle all the accounting (because the tax stuff was really beyond us.) Could we afford $37,200 to give our nanny a take home pay of $26,000 per year (which they could get under the table in cash from aonther family)? We could not. Which is why our kids are day care now despite their dietary issues, which the day care is not doing a good job accomodating.

Just figured this thread needed some numbers.

Could we afford
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:20 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oops, sorry for the editing error. Also I wanted to cite: tax calculation courtesy of https://secure.gtmassociates.com/calculator.aspx which is a good resource if you are trying to hire a nanny. State: Minnesota.

We actually had lots of people accept our position on the terms we could offer (approximately what is above, except we offered some food benefits and HSA contributions to reduce the tax burden, so our total out of pocket was closer to $34k) but then quit when they got a better offer. Which wasn't very long, usually. It's a dead end, no promotions, job with an expiration date when the kids start school, little capacity for raises. I can't tell you how depressed I was every time a nanny quit on us.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:31 PM on September 15, 2013


Capitalists, by definition, cannot produce anything -- all they have is capital. It's the Worker that creates value. Profit arises from the gap in value produced and wages paid. The whole "we are not in the business of making steel; we are in the business of making money" quote makes this pretty clear.

Well, of course. But money is just a proxy for bartering services and goods.

The idea that any one entity or class creates value is just wrong. It is all circular. There is no value if people don't buy the stuff at a profitable price. There is nobody to buy the stuff if there are no jobs. There are no jobs if there is nobody to take the risk and hire people. Nobody takes that risk if there is nobody to buy their stuff.

Also, you might want to check your definition of capitalist. A capitalist is someone who owns the means of production. Including our own selves and our ability to work for pay. Our productive time is a capital asset just as much as a shovel or factory.
posted by gjc at 3:00 PM on September 15, 2013


Also, you might want to check your definition of capitalist. A capitalist is someone who owns the means of production. Including our own selves and our ability to work for pay.

That is absolutely NOT the definition of capitalist. The people (under capitalism) who sell their labor in return for payment are called workers.
posted by scody at 3:06 PM on September 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


... if people weren't willing to work for that level of pay.

People are willing to work for that level of pay because they have no better choices. The political and economic system actively arranges so that there are lots more people looking for work than there are jobs and that the job seekers have fewer rights to organize for better jobs.

Globalization, income taxes, labor laws, banking laws, even the Federal Reserve which is poised to put their foot on the necks of workers the moment they get any leverage on wages -- all are manipulated by the politically and economically powerful to keep wages and benefits down.

So when you blithely say "people are willing to work for that level of pay" you are spouting a lot of Randian BS and omitting the context of oppression.
posted by JackFlash at 3:53 PM on September 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


I don't know if this is, or is too much of a derail by pulling the camera back a bit... but this statistic didn't make my mouth fall open or anything:

58% of domestic workers spend more than half their income on rent

Go around and check in on anyone working in any customer service/retail job in any quickly becoming a theme park for the rich major city. Seattle, bay area, NYC area, etc. Hell, probably even quite a few other places.

I bet this statistic would hold true, maybe the number would even go up if you lumped all those in(and i'd love to see some type of study on this!).

I know very few people in my town who aren't at or above the 50% mark on that stat.

Same with this stat:

many report that they risk losing their job if they ask for or take time off.

My friend got fired because he got hit by a car on the way to work and the week he spent in the hospital was "unfair to the other employees". I almost got fired when i was still making coffee for getting stopped by the cops on the way to work even though i had a ticket to show my boss. And don't even get me started on asking for, or trying to take time off.

It's a jungle out there, and everybody working the close to minimum wage jobs is getting hosed. This is just a microcosm of that, and there's some specifics that make these people a bit more vulnerable. There's definitely a lot more to this though.
posted by emptythought at 4:06 PM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I could have gone and bought a second house for what it cost to employ a nanny, even with crappy benefits.

Well of course! If you are going to hire someone to work for you full time, you need to be willing to fully support two households, yours and theirs -- including housing, food, health care, etc.

The irony is that many of these nannies are leaving their own children at home in order to care for your children, so you should be paying their child care as well.
posted by JackFlash at 4:09 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Offering food benefits ...

Ah, yes, the ultimate employer insult. We will give you food. As if they were helping out the destitute person on the corner with the cardboard sign who is so desperate that they "will work for food."

Just give them money. They'll have the dignity of buying their own goddamn food.
posted by JackFlash at 4:18 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


This point makes it pretty unforgivable … because the same result was likely: increased productivity, tax income, in addition to employment for domestic worker.

In the Quebec situation, the childcare providers are receiving a fair wage, healthcare benefits, vacation days, sick days, unemployment insurance, workers comp coverage, and cheap daycare for their own children, and are also paying income tax on their earnings.

Their situation is leagues better than the near-slavery conditions of the childcare providers discussed in the OP's links.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:28 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ah, yes, the ultimate employer insult. We will give you food.

"I'm sure there is some cake we could let them eat."
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:30 PM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's just a total lack of goodwill, imagination, and empathy that in the U.S. this is considered a transactional problem instead of a societal one. We suck hard in this area.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:38 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The irony is that many of these nannies are leaving their own children at home in order to care for your children, so you should be paying their child care as well.

Or allow them to bring their children to work.

However, some people would prefer their children not to mix with the lower classes.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:41 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just the fact that this class of workers is specifically exempted by the government from many of the protections other workers enjoy speaks volumes about who is being catered to.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:45 PM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


I spend less than 50% of my paycheck on rent. I'm lucky because I'm paid well and live in a cheap apartment.
posted by pando11 at 4:54 PM on September 15, 2013


I have friends who started with a nanny because the wait time for daycare was over a year (and they checked into it while still pregnant IIRC).
posted by evening at 5:17 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes, I got a spot in my daycare exactly a year after I put myself on the wait list - and literally the check was in the mail the day after my positive pregnancy test. Most people I work with employ nannies because they didn't get it together to apply for daycare that early, not because they are snobs who want to keep their kids apart from the hoi polloi. And most of their nannies are actually cheaper than our daycare, because, yes, many of them are plugged into immigrant communities where it's easy to find an old lady who speaks no English and can't drive, who will watch your kids for cheap without complaint. I think my region could easily triple or quadruple its available infant daycare center offerings.
posted by town of cats at 6:21 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


"... our kids are day care now despite their dietary issues, which the day care is not doing a good job accomodating."

OnceUponaTime: are there any at-home childcare providers or nanny shares in your neighbourhood? My niece is both developmentally disabled and had dietary issues as a baby/small child, and her babysitter did a wonderful job of dealing with her food and her disability. As I mentioned, she only had 1-2 other children in care (other than her own children, who were teens).

Or maybe this is a cultural difference: in Canada, it's just normal for people to have nannies who work out of their own homes and look after your kid(s) as well other people's kids and their own. (And generally called "babysitters" rather than nannies, though they are adults working fulltime). It's a good job for someone who wants to be at home with their kids but can't afford to not earn some income. It still doesn't pay well at all, but there is a big difference in the relationship between carer and parent - you are much more equal, because the parent is a client rather than an employer. (For example, if my niece's carer knew she needed time off, she would just tell us that she was unavailable. My mom would have to find someone else for that time/day.)
posted by jb at 6:51 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, you might want to check your definition of capitalist. A capitalist is someone who owns the means of production. Including our own selves and our ability to work for pay.

That is absolutely NOT the definition of capitalist. The people (under capitalism) who sell their labor in return for payment are called workers


So I, as a business owner who charges an hourly rate to fix things - am I a worker, or a capitalist? I sell my labor at a profit (usually), don't pay payroll taxes because I'm self-employed, etc etc - I guess I'm either a working capitalist or a capitalist worker?

Where do I fit? Because I'm sure some nannies and other domestic workers aren't typically on a payroll - they're self employed or under contract, like me. Where do they fit in this?
posted by disclaimer at 7:02 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


You may be a business owner, but that doesn't necessarily make you an owner of capital. You may fancy yourself as a professional or entrepreneur but you are just a laborer for wages just like most other people. You sell your labor for money. That makes you a laborer or wage earner, whether you are a nanny, a plumber, programmer, lawyer or doctor, salaried or not. It makes no difference whether you call yourself self-employed or a contractor except to the IRS. You are a worker.

And by the way, maybe you have never really run your own business because otherwise you would surely know that you must pay payroll taxes on your labor, even if you own your own business.
posted by JackFlash at 7:40 PM on September 15, 2013


And by the way, maybe you have never really run your own business because otherwise you would surely know that you must pay payroll taxes on your labor, even if you own your own business.

If you're a freelancer you pay income tax plus the 15.3% self employment tax instead of the payroll tax. This includes both halves of FICA plus the Medicare tax.
posted by Talez at 7:42 PM on September 15, 2013


So I, as a business owner who charges an hourly rate to fix things - am I a worker, or a capitalist? I sell my labor at a profit (usually), don't pay payroll taxes because I'm self-employed, etc etc - I guess I'm either a working capitalist or a capitalist worker?

Where do I fit?


Welcome to the petite bourgeoisie:
The petite bourgeoisie are economically distinct from the proletariat and the lumpenproletariat, who are social-class strata who entirely rely on the sale of their labor-power for survival; and also are distinct from the capitalist class haute bourgeoisie (high bourgeoisie) who own the means of production, and thus can buy the labor-power of the proletariat and lumpenproletariat to work the means of production. Though the petite bourgeoisie can buy the labor of others, unlike the haute bourgeoisie, they typically work alongside their employees; and, although they are business owners, they do not own a controlling share of the means of production. The means of production owned by the petite bourgeoisie does not generate enough revenue surplus value to permit the accumulation of capital to be reinvested into production; unless they take extreme financial chances.
posted by scody at 8:16 PM on September 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


FICA and Medicare are payroll taxes. Just because a freelancer pays those using Form SE, they shouldn't kid themselves that they aren't paying payroll taxes on their labor, the same as any other worker.
posted by JackFlash at 8:17 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes, the ultimate employer insult. We will give you food. As if they were helping out the destitute person on the corner with the cardboard sign who is so desperate that they "will work for food."

Food, like health care and mileage, is a form of remuneration which is not taxed. Again, as an employer, I had a really hard time competing against other families who were willing to pay under the table. Ie, I could afford $34,000 per year out of pocket, which became less than $25,000 per year take home after taxes (on both parties). But someone else could offer $34,000 out of pocket, which became $34,000 per year take home, by not filing taxes.

We were determined to pay legally, but we ended up offering $75 per week in gift cards to the grocery store of the nanny's choice. That's a $15 per day "lunch" budget, but really what it is, is $75 per week on which neither I nor the nanny legally have to pay tax. By offering that in lieu of some salary, we could get closer to affording the $500 per week "take home" that the good candidates were asking for. But that, along with health insurance and all of the other tax-burden-minimizing benefits we could come up with, still made our offer really weak compared to the under-the-table offers the better candidates were also getting. The ones who already had health insurance through spouses or parents or (in one case) the VA? Even harder to entice.

I just want folks to understand that this is what "benefits" are in general -- ways of enticing an employee by spending some dollars more efficiently than spending them for salary. Not a sign of moral superiority. A higher salary could buy the same benefits, if not for tax laws. And I am generally in favor of those laws -- as witness my desperate attempts to pay my nanny legally.

We would have loved to find an in home day care or nanny sharing arrangement. But we make the money we do because we moved to a state where we don't have any family, and the friends we have through work are a generation older. So we just couldn't find any opportunities like that.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:41 PM on September 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


If you are making 150k, and you are paying a nanny 30k, you have 120k a year for all your other expenses. If you can't pay your nanny more than that, because you can't live off of less than 120k, you may want to look into applying whatever techniques your nanny applies to live off of one fourth what you're living off.

It doesn't seem consistent for a person to say "I can't live on less than 120k" as a justification for paying a full-time-and-then-some employee only 30k. Like, I'm all beep-boop-does-not-compute over here, please help me out.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:02 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


If you are making 150k, and you are paying a nanny 30k, you have 120k a year for all your other expenses.

Presumably that 150k is before taxes (state/federal/SS/Medicare/etc.) and presumably a contribution to retirement plans, college savings plan, etc.

In other words: 150k is a good living, but it's not .01% Cayman Islands Tax Dodge billionaire good living.
posted by scody at 9:14 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Additionally, even the "kindly employer," however rare, gets drafted as an excuse not to raise or enforce minimum wage laws, regulate and standardize benefits, and avoid establishing a guaranteed minimum income or socialized health care coverage. They become "proof" that good employers can occasionally exist without any of these things, so we don't need to make sure they happen.

You hear a version of this same argument all the time in the South, as a neo-confederate defense of slavery.

It's funny. You say, effectively, well someone has to pay the lowest wages because not to hire workers willing to work for lower wages deprives them of economic opportunity. As if those same workers wouldn't be available at a higher rate of pay. That seems like the kind of economic reasoning that eventually drives all wages everywhere down to zero.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:42 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you are making 150k, and you are paying a nanny 30k, you have 120k a year for all your other expenses.

Presumably that 150k is before taxes (state/federal/SS/Medicare/etc.) and presumably a contribution to retirement plans, college savings plan, etc.

In other words: 150k is a good living, but it's not .01% Cayman Islands Tax Dodge billionaire good living.
How does a nanny manage to live off of 30k, minus taxes, when said nanny's employers can't live off of less than 120k, minus taxes?

How do nannies fill the college funds of their kids?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:57 PM on September 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


We ended up offering $75 per week in gift cards to the grocery store of the nanny's choice. That's a $15 per day "lunch" budget, but really what it is, is $75 per week on which neither I nor the nanny legally have to pay tax.

I hate to break this to you but this is not legal. To be excluded from FICA wages:
1. Meals and lodging (room/board) must be furnished on the business premises (the family's home), and
2. Must be furnished for the employer’s convenience (eg. she cannot leave the home for lunch when on duty).

Further, this food exemption only applies to FICA taxes. It does not apply to income taxes.

You are illegally screwing them out of their social security credits to save yourself a few bucks. That's what under the table payments are all about. Sheesh, just pay your employee the $75 wages you owe them and don't give them food cards. How insulting.
posted by JackFlash at 10:18 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


How do nannies fill the college funds of their kids?

I'm not arguing that 30k isn't a tremendously difficult salary to live off of (I know, because I made less than that every year till my early 30s, and my partner sometimes makes less than that some years). I'm arguing that someone with at least one child who makes 150k (which doesn't describe me, btw; that's still far beyond what I'll ever make) doesn't automatically have 120k free and clear after paying said 30k to the nanny.

The fundamental structural problems in our economy and society that have created a vast army of working poor do not originate with well-off upper-middle class families; they originate with the mega-wealthy who are the real possessors and controllers of wealth and the political system.
posted by scody at 10:22 PM on September 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


The fundamental structural problems in our economy and society that have created a vast army of working poor do not originate with well-off upper-middle class families; they originate with the mega-wealthy who are the real possessors and controllers of wealth and the political system.

I agree with you but it sure is annoying when the upper-middle class puts the beat down on those below them. And they all too often ally themselves with the political objectives of the mega-wealthy they aspire to be and despise those below they are terrified they might instead someday join.
posted by JackFlash at 10:31 PM on September 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


it sure is annoying when the upper-middle class puts the beat down on those below them. And they all too often ally themselves with the political objectives of the mega-wealthy they aspire to be and despise those below they are terrified they might instead someday join.

Oh, I absolutely agree with this 100%.
posted by scody at 10:40 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


what i'm not clear with here is what's the socially acceptable(to you guys) amount to be paying a nanny then? 30k obviously isn't enough, what's it supposed to be. 50k? Is this a percentage of the families income that's hiring them thing?

I really want to know how this works, because somehow i don't see everyone all up in arms whenever anyone else making $10 an hour gets brought up.

How is this any different than them working at a shop owned by someone who makes way more than 150k? Plenty if not nearly all of those places use short-shafting people on hours to avoid paying any kind of benefits too.
posted by emptythought at 11:19 PM on September 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nannies don't get retirement savings. Or retirement. Nannies don't get to send their kids to post-secondary school. Nannies don't get to own a home. Nannies don't get vacations. Nannies are second-class citizens.

This way, others can be first-class citizens. This is vitally important.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:35 PM on September 15, 2013


Just a few recommendations for books that get into the qualitative lived experiences of domestic workers (via the book review section of the academic journal Labor: Studies in the Working-Class History of the Americas.

Tamara Mose Brown (2011) Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbeans Creating Community --
...Brown based her book on participant-observer research conducted with West Indian childcare providers in her own neighborhood in Brooklyn. Brown adds a unique perspective to the growing body of literature on domestic workers, in the vein of Mary Romero’s Maid in the USA and Pierette Hondagneu-Sotelo’s Domestica: Immigrant Workers Cleaning and Caring in the Shadows of Affluence. Brown’s study of West Indians complements Romero’s study of Chicanas in the Southwest and Hondagneu-Sotelo’s work on undocumented Mexican immigrants in Los Angeles, as well as other works.

Brown notably takes her focus outside of the family home and into the public spaces inhabited by the nannies and their charges on a daily basis. She frequented six Brooklyn parks between 2004 and 2007, using her status as a second-generation West Indian to gain access to the social world of West Indian childcare providers. Although her academic research and class status separated her from the subjects, Brown gained the trust of the subjects and took part in group playdates and celebrations in the parks.
posted by spamandkimchi at 11:52 PM on September 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Our productive time is a capital asset just as much as a shovel or factory.

No, not from any standpoint, philosophical, economical, accounting...maybe it helps in certain contexts to think of it that way, to "lump" them together, but they are clearly handled as separate concepts most of the time and for practical reasons. I suspect the problem of mortality is what really drives the distinction at its heart. Labor is more precious than capital. Life is more precious than capital.
posted by lordaych at 12:36 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


This does seem like one of those problems that was structurally created to throw a nice sticky net on the hordes of people trying to climb the rhetorical ladder. But like many things that seem deliberate it's probably just something that settled into place and makes sense economically for powerful people so here we are. It seems like public childcare would be more cost effective and can be demonstrated to increase productivity. It seems like public healthcare would immediately solve otherwise so many intractable problems that keep people from throwing themselves at new business ideas and ventures and instead keep them "gainfully employed." And with public healthcare, you could even choose to hire a private nanny and not worry about their healthcare at all! And if those private nannies formed labor unions they could ensure that they are paid a decent above-the-table living wage and perhaps act in a non-profit capacity as a larger organization that ensures that any nanny can take off for 2 weeks for an emergency and lookie here, we happen to have backup nanny ninjas that specialize in handling versatile, constantly changing assignments!

Ha ha!

But we we have is instead of the elite pulling that ladder up entirely, they leave it there but ensure there are tremendous costs and risky investments in the process of achieving success for those who are not sufficiently privileged. And they can watch you struggle and be like "well that's part of the process" even if they had minimal hardship to get where they are with their station in life.

And along the way, married yuppie couples that thought they were doing pretty well find that hey, Day Care is extremely expensive and yanks us down the ladder a few notches after all that hard work getting a decent pair of jobs...and hey, the nanny is cheaper, and now I get to subconsciously feel "like a boss" because I'm outsourcing some of my labor and am part of that "petite bourgeoisie" and I get to lecture someone about being reliable and I really don't like doing that but she needs to step up her punctuality because I can't afford to be late...

You can almost detect a little gulp of slight shame and giddiness when someone mentions that they have taken the leap to "hired help." Even a once-a-month MerryMaid visit can make you feel powerful (based on observations of friends; the most I "outsource" around the home is shoveling the snow when the ambitious fresh-faced suburb kids show up before I get a chance to do it).

What a lot of folks do to scrape by on the $30K is pool their resources without feeling like they are a complete failure for living with more than their immediate family, carpooling, massive efficient cook-offs for good food that can be frozen, etc. I realize this is a total cliche trope with Latinos, George Lopez has a million riffs on the subject, but when you have less money and you still have an expensive-ass family to deal with, you swallow your pride (or perhaps have cultural differences where pride is not even an issue) and become efficient and use your "village" to help, whether it's older children in the house, extended family, friends, etc. I think suburban yuppie [often] white folks (like myself) just want to have our own everything, our own giant house witha yard that buffers us away from others, our own lawnmower, our own leafblower, reciprocating saw, nanny, our own every-fucking-thing, and the $30K income with 4 kids single mother simply can't see things that way.

The whole system is exploitative to be sure, and the pecking order itself is exploited so that the lower strata are constantly belittling each other and finding ways to screw each other as they fight for the scraps of the 0.001% or whatever.

I don't know what the answer is yet other than replicator technology.
posted by lordaych at 1:08 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


emptythought: what i'm not clear with here is what's the socially acceptable(to you guys) amount to be paying a nanny then? 30k obviously isn't enough, what's it supposed to be. 50k? Is this a percentage of the families income that's hiring them thing?

I'd say the legal minimum required for any other full-time employee. It's not the total amount that bothers me (hell, 30k is already more than I've ever made), it's the lack of benefits. For instance, are nannies supposed to come in however sick they get? Never get any kind of planned medical treatment that requires absence? Are they just never supposed to take vacations, ever? What the hell is wrong with anyone who inflicts that on someone? I hope you don't consider yourselves good or even neutral if you do that.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:20 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


it's the lack of benefits. For instance, are nannies supposed to come in however sick they get? Never get any kind of planned medical treatment that requires absence? Are they just never supposed to take vacations, ever?

Yea, ok. Fair enough. And i realize i might be hobbyhorsing at this point, but i just don't ever remember seeing anyone on here support this point all that much or get this up in arms about it before when it was any other kind of job. I think there has to be some factor here that's really cranking up the outrage.

Like is it that it's one person doing the injustice directly to another person and "punching down" rather than having the blast shields and obfuscation of a business in the middle to hide the fact they're doing the same shit. The sort of thing lordaych was talking about with

now I get to subconsciously feel "like a boss" because I'm outsourcing some of my labor and am part of that "petite bourgeoisie" and I get to lecture someone about being reliable and I really don't like doing that but she needs to step up her punctuality because I can't afford to be late...

I could also see it being that having a full time nanny is seen as a really classically upper class almost antebellum or like, donwton abbey type old-school sitting room with animal heads on the wall kind of rich-ish people thing and that it's almost purely open season because of that.

There's a good point in here about middle class+ people shitting on those below them, but the rest is like... Yea, thats how basically all jobs that pay under like 25k a year work now. Everything you(to be clear, i mean you Mitrovarr) said about getting sick or any sort of absence seems to apply more and more to "entry level" low wage jobs across the board.

I'm not saying there isn't a lot fucked up with this, but the lady stocking the shelves at walgreens is probably getting "fucked by the system" just as hard in pretty much the same ways. No one is getting the legal minimum for a full time employee because no one is a full time employee anymore. Those benefits are the treat hanging out on the stick in front of the dog from an old warner bros cartoon. Unless you're working at somewhere famous for having benefits like starbucks, you're likely fucked.

I really think a significant portion of the outrage about this comes from the image of someone treating their nanny like shit and is an easy load in to the "lol bougie assholes" canon. You can get in to the captive/exploitative relationship a lot of those people have with the "hired help" they employ, but just attacking it front on about benefits and wages really isn't hitting it where it's more fucked up than a lot of other low paying jobs.
posted by emptythought at 3:27 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really think a significant portion of the outrage about this comes from the image of someone treating their nanny like shit and is an easy load in to the "lol bougie assholes" canon.

It helps that the type of labor lets us draw connections to other issues like household income and family life, and how class affects these. The poor are often lectured about having children -- really, even daring to have sex -- that they "can't afford." A child is a huge expense, they are told, and you should not have a child if you cannot pay for it honestly, all the way, and on your own.

If you don't have the time, or the money, or the resources to support your kids on your own, you don't get to have them, or your lifestyle should take a hit. Better sell that TV or not buy it in the first place; dump the car and take the bus if you can't afford the insurance payments; the extra time or the loss of leisure, well, that's just the choice you made when you had kids while poor.

Make it to the upper-middle class, though, and suddenly people find a way to frame underpaying the nanny because doing otherwise would reduce your standard of living as the responsible, fiscally sound choice. No one tells the upper-middle class household members that they "can't afford" those kids or that lifestyle if the only way they can keep it up is to pay the nanny under the table, no insurance, no sick leave, etc.

You can tie this to other kinds of undercompensated labor, no doubt. But the undercompensated nanny hits especially close to home because it's a case of especially blatant double standards. Because of that rhetorical power, the case of the nanny makes a good initial example in the broader discussion you are asking for, a starter case study after which other kinds of undercompensated labor, and other effects of the missing social safety net can be brought into the discussion.
posted by kewb at 4:14 AM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Oh, and the undercompensated household service worker does bring in something that other arguments about undercompensation can sometimes leave concealed: the devaluation (and secret valuation) of domestic labor in general, which is almost always unpaid labor within a household or underpaid labor when sourced outside the household. (The well-known issues of undercompensation and expected-but-unpaid labor in K-12 teaching starts to make more sense when you think of it as a child care profession as much as an educational profession.)
posted by kewb at 4:19 AM on September 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Everything you(to be clear, i mean you Mitrovarr) said about getting sick or any sort of absence seems to apply more and more to "entry level" low wage jobs across the board.

I see what you're saying, but:

a) I'm pretty sure people are just as up in arms about the lack of benefits in low-paying 'official' jobs and I've seen plenty of comment on that in other threads.

b) Bad as they are, 'official' jobs are at least typically on the books, may be legally obliged to offer at least some meagre level of benefits, can potentially, at least in theory, be sued to redress grievances, etc -- and there is the potential for the situation to be improved through political means. With an off-the-books nanny, there is no protection, guarantee, or prospect of improvement towards a less exploitative situation, because it all comes down to what the employer is willing to offer, and even if they do make an effort, they might retract it at any time if things "get hard".

And yes, there is also the issue that nanny-employers are individuals who can be addressed individually. "Walmart" is not a participant in this thread.
posted by Drexen at 4:19 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ah, yes, the ultimate employer insult. We will give you food. As if they were helping out the destitute person on the corner with the cardboard sign who is so desperate that they "will work for food."

It is only the privilege of being moderately well off that lets someone blithely dismiss options that would prevent starvation for the poor.

I'm glad you've never been that hungry. I genuinely am. But if you think there's no one in the world hungry enough that that would seem like a fantastic deal, you are fooling yourself. And yes, maybe that person would be better off with higher pay. But if the choice is between that or nothing, I think there are certainly people who would go for it.
posted by corb at 5:37 AM on September 16, 2013


But if the choice is between that [food] or nothing, I think there are certainly people who would go for it.

Ah, but why would it be "that or nothing" in a working society? That choice is not imposed from on high, a law of nature or God. Even such staunch advocates of the free market and libertarian thought as Milton Freidman and Friedrich Hayek ended up supporting forms of minimum guaranteed income on the grounds that such situations were effectively coercive.

To defend the existence of that choice and the people who offer it isn't humane; it isn't even libertarian, not in the mainstream sense. And to pretend that there are no other options in our present circumstance, when so many live well above the middle and very far from starvation, is inaccurate, unrealistic, and inhumane.
posted by kewb at 6:20 AM on September 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Also, a really important thing to read is the methodology of this survey in Appendix A. The people they surveyed weren't just full time employees - they included anyone who had worked six hours or more in the previous week. So this would apply to a cleaning lady who comes in once a week, or a babysitter hired for an evening out, just as much as someone who works full time all year.

I sometimes have hired cleaners to come in weekly and do a deep clean, or babysitters to watch my child. Not once have they ever asked for anything but cash. I've hired babysitters who did in home care - you drop your kid off with them in the evening, they watch them for a few hours then put them to bed and you pick them up in the morning. Their requested payment has always been a flat fee. It has never been an hourly request per hour my child is physically in their house. Nor would I really consider myself their "employer" - I use their services only for a few hours. If I had to start filling out complicated tax paperwork to hire a cleaning person, I would simply not hire cleaning people, because the point of hiring them is to make my life easier, not harder.

They're conflating apples and oranges, here.
posted by corb at 6:28 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


No one tells the upper-middle class household members that they "can't afford" those kids or that lifestyle if the only way they can keep it up is to pay the nanny under the table, no insurance, no sick leave, etc.

The way for us to afford more kids would be for me to quit my job and stay home. That makes the marginal cost of each kid much lower, since daycare is uncompensated in that case -- provided by the wife. That is the traditional solution to this problem, and by making day care harder, that's really what you're advocating going back to. "Raise your own children" ends up being really anti-feminist, basically demanding that all women work as unpaid nannies, whatever else they may be qualified for. I will give away something about my own income by saying we're alreay paying more than half of my take-home pay for child care (the day care center we use now costs about the same, for two kids, as we were offering to our nanny candidates.)

The problem with sick leave and vacation is not the cost (which, as you can see by the numbers cited above, is small potatoes in the context of all of the other costs.) It is the difficulty of trusting a stranger to be in your home alone all day with your children. And that's if you went through an agency that provides "substitutes" in the first place, and they can find one on a given day. If no substitutes are available, then you face the problem of the nanny, the employer, and the children all sharing the employer's allotment of sick and vacation days from their employer. It's not typically enough to cover all the days everyone needs off. (We used the substitutes sometimes, but reluctantly. We also took sick and vacation leave, which quickly ran out, and tried working shifts -- me from 4 am to noon, my husband from noon to 8pm. None of them very satisfying arrangments. This was the hardest part about having a nanny.)

A couple of other facts I wanted to throw out there:

Most of the nanny candidates we interviewed had at one time or another worked in day cares as well. The wages of the two jobs are roughly equivalent because they are competing for the same pool of workers, with the same qualifications. Many day care workers do not get regular schedules or full time hours, much less benefits. And the job can be more stressful, because it involves more children. Which is why many day care workers eventually try nannying. It is not at all clear to me that day care workers are, in my state, less exploited than full-time nannies, or that I have done a morally good thing by switching to day care. Especially since we we really tried to offer fair terms to our nannies.

Most of the candidates we had were either young women in their twenties or "retired" stay at home moms. They were not attempting to support a family on a nanny's salary, as they would not attempt to on a day care worker's salary. However, there were some candidates, mostly single moms, who had children of their own whom they wanted to bring along. For those moms the "low" salary of a nanny job was still much higher than the take home pay that they would have had left after taking a job that did not allow them to bring their own children (which would probably be zero, in most cases. That would almost always cost as much as the person was making from the nanny job. And if you think about it for a second, you can see why. ) It is not the case that it is common to find women who have put their own children in child care so that they can take a nanny job. The only cases where we saw this were when the person had a family member available -- usually their own mom -- who was willing to care for their child for free or at very reduced cost.

Finally, I just want to re-iterate that to the extent that nannies are paid off the books, it is often because they themselves demand it, prefering not to pay taxes on their income. Employers who want to pay taxes are at a big disadvantage in the market. And, as corb says, many "domestic workers" actually work on a casual, occasional basis. (Though how many of them would prefer a regular job, I can't say.) If you don't pay them more than a certain amount per year, you're not even obliged by law to pay taxes, and for "occasional" work, benefits and sick leave are amost meaningless.
posted by OnceUponATime at 7:44 AM on September 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm glad you've never been that hungry. I genuinely am. But if you think there's no one in the world hungry enough that that would seem like a fantastic deal, you are fooling yourself. And yes, maybe that person would be better off with higher pay. But if the choice is between that or nothing, I think there are certainly people who would go for it.

But the actual story here is that someone gets X amount as pay with the taxes etc done, and an extra $75 a week in grocery cards, and I'm not clear why that part of the compensation is preferable for anyone to just the cash.
posted by jeather at 7:52 AM on September 16, 2013


It's like this: :

If I just put in $530 per week with no insurance to that calculator,
$1060 biweekly, it gives your take home as $21,595 after taxes
($27,560 before taxes) and our out-of-pocket cost (including the
payroll company, taxes, etc) as about $30,000 per year. (Not including worker's comp, substitues for sick days, etc)

Plan B:

Alternatively I put in $460 per week of pay and then separately added
in $50 per week of untaxed gift cards (basically an $10 per day meal
budget) plus $135.15 per month in health and dental insurance.

Now you get to take home $18,901 in cash, plus $4,221 in benefits
($2600 of that in gift cards, the rest in health and dental premiums),
and so it's equivalent to $23,122 for you. So it's a better deal, I
think. Same cost to us.


The more untaxed benefits you have, the closer the "out of pocket" cost comes to the "take home" pay. The $75 in gift cards came with a salary which was lower, but not by $75 a week. We offered both and let the nanny choose.

(This is an actual example taken from the last hiring negotiation that I did. FWIW, the negotiation ended up with the $75 instead of the $50, which was a increase in "benefits", rather than salary over our initial offer, and so cost us less. She accepted on those terms, but quit after two months.)
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


OnceUponATime, the problem is that feminism is dominated by women with educations andthe intellect and schooling to take gender study classes and they are often the ones who are hiring nannies to go to school and get these high paying jobs.

Feminism is not serving the nannies so well, is it?

My point is all this solidarity on women's issues falls apart when you seem totally confidant that allowing parents to outsource domestic labor for bad pay is the solution.

Why can't fathers stay home to raise the children? Why do families assume they need to hire a woman anyway?

There's so much that I think needs dissecting in a lot of your assumptions about why this state of affairs is ok, and why the plight of people on 150,000 ssalaries is somehow more pitiable than the plight of people on 30,000 or on minimum wage OR UNDER for that matter.

It's a hard sell when you tell me how hard it is to live on a salary of... well just about anything. I have only worked wage jobs myself and trust me, I know it's not enough to support myself and my son.

There's some serious issues with how jobs that were traditionally female, such as parenting, are considered less valuable work. That's a sexist presumption. Rearing children is important not only for families themselves, but for society as a whole. Emotionally healthy, education, pro-social involved humans take a LOT of work and LOVE to create.

Somehow this whole "parenting should be paid less because I can't afford to pay well for it" strikes me as a really harmful force in society, and it's weird that nannies are all female. Isn't that a bit sexist? Why not have more dad's stay at home to do the parenting, pay EQUAL SALARIES for the domestic labor, and allow people who don't want to parent their children throughout the day because they are more suited to some other job, to switch with another person is more interested in the daily work of parenting?

If the problem is that some men or women are not well suited to daily domestic life and others are, I see nothing wrong with the work being paid the same and people who don't like domestic life basically swapping with someone else so they get out of the house and can contribute the things they really are good at.

This solution that poor women need to be hoisting up wealthier women to live their dreams is like the OPPOSITE of feminism.
posted by xarnop at 8:03 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


By the way, this is a heavy subject and that I want to dissect some of your ideas about it is not at all meant to come across as hurtful because I have my own areas of privileged as well-- I'm not trying to single you out because these are very popular ideas you're sharing, I just think they need to be examined and we could do better at this as a society.
posted by xarnop at 8:05 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


OUAT, but why offer a gift card instead of cash? I understand why a gift card is better for you (and her) than salary, but why does she prefer a gift card to just plain cash? Why do you?
posted by jeather at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2013


I feel like my solution came out a bit jumbled, to clarify, yes nanny jobs should be paid the same as other professional careers. People who don't like childminding can hire someone to the childminding for them while they go out in the workforce and do something they like doing better or that they are more gifted at.

There's nothing anti-feminist about that principle.
posted by xarnop at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2013


There's so much that I think needs dissecting in a lot of your assumptions about why this state of affairs is ok, and why the plight of people on 150,000 ssalaries is somehow more pitiable than the plight of people on 30,000 or on minimum wage OR UNDER for that matter.

Those are not my assumptions. If I have a point in this thread (and I'm not sure I do -- I just feel like putting numbers in) it's that it's a hard problem, with no obvious solution. Not that the current state of affairs is okay. Just that I don't see how we get to a better one.

In theory, yes, there should be male stay at home dads and male nannies at the same rate as female. But people (including me, I confess) trust men less with children. With some data-backed justification. And women usually make less than their husbands, and may, for the first year of each child's life or so, be breastfeeding... I feel like it is wishful thinking to think that, as long as both of those are true, dads are ever going to drop out of the work force as much as moms.

I'd like to get into it more, and my feelings are not hurt (you were very tactful) but I don't think I have any more time for MeFi at the moment. Maybe tonight, if the thread has not passed me by.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:08 AM on September 16, 2013


OUAT, but why offer a gift card instead of cash? I understand why a gift card is better for you (and her) than salary, but why does she prefer a gift card to just plain cash? Why do you?

To satisfy the IRS that we are buying her food (which is legally untaxed) and not just paying her part of her salary under the table.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:09 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


And women usually make less than their husbands, and may, for the first year of each child's life or so, be breastfeeding...I feel like it is wishful thinking to think that, as long as both of those are true, dads are ever going to drop out of the work force as much as moms.

But in places where men are given paternity leave that is separate from the maternity leave, they do actually come much closer. It is probably wishful thinking to imagine that the US is going to enact massive maternity and paternity leave, though.
posted by jeather at 8:11 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why do families assume they need to hire a woman anyway?

Pedophiles and "Think of the Children".
posted by Mitheral at 8:17 AM on September 16, 2013


I feel like it's odd to use feminism to say women need the right to work traditionally male jobs and simultaneously say that women are better at childminding.

Again, these concepts need so much dissecting I'm not even sure I can break this down, but something about it strikes me as a mess. Other smart people... please let the wheels of your mind churn on this subject a bit, I hope! There's got to be a better way to do this, and I also think as was said by someone earlier on metafilter, it's funny how things can't be done differently until they have to be.

Meaning... yes we can do things differently, it just takes determination and work, and willingness to change and possibly giving up privileges for certain members of society, and that is hard. No one ever really thinks they are in a position they can give things up to make the world better, yet when we try, there are often at least a few things we actually can live with giving up or changing our behaviors around. It makes it easier when we work in unison and get some systemic changes in place as well, and contrary to jaded thinking, these things can be done when enough people decide they should be done.

I mean there is also research that backs up that women are more emotional while having PMS and that they leave the workforce to birth and sometimes rear children, but yet we don't want just their gender to determine hiring preference right?

I think on average many women ARE more well suited to childminding and mothering for many reasons and I don't see this as a bad thing. I think a lot of times women want to escape this identity because it's such a hated, undervalued, and under supported identity. Even some of the same women who think women are better at mothering don't want to be ACTUALLY identified as just a mother because they have other valuable traits and gifts for the world too! Who wants to be stuck in the home all the time! I want a degree, and a title, and position of power, and respect, and benefits, and money, and acceptance into participation in society andaffirmations from others that me and my children deserve good things! And that is what you get from a job with a title, with standing, with reputation, with good pay. Mothering doesn't give that.

But at that point we have to acknowledge that a woman who is staying at home to rear children but wants more freedom, is having a want, not a need. And that want really SHOULDN'T be the basis of treating other people badly.

Anyways, that was an attempt to break this down but my mind sort of boggles at how beliefs and practice about this seems a mess if idiosyncrasies and basically excuses for a dysfunctional way of supporting families and looking at what meaningful contributions in the world really are.
posted by xarnop at 8:38 AM on September 16, 2013


Feminism is not serving the nannies so well, is it?

Many feminists also have a class-based analysis of oppression, and are also in favor of better working conditions, living wages, and benefits for nannies and other types of workers.
posted by scody at 9:05 AM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


(scody, I agree with you and I was referencing the form of feminism brought up by OnceUponaTime and certain people who identify as feminists but aren't willing to examine how some women are harmed by some of the same ideologies that serve other women.)

To me the idea that asking people to parent their children is unfeminist is wrong, in terms of my own definition of feminism. It's kind of a misuse of feminism to put other women down, it seems to my thinking.
posted by xarnop at 9:16 AM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


But why offer a gift card instead of cash? I understand why a gift card is better for you (and her) than salary, but why does she prefer a gift card to just plain cash? Why do you?

To satisfy the IRS that we are buying her food (which is legally untaxed) and not just paying her part of her salary under the table.


Sorry, but that is not true. It is a clear violation of the law. Paying for labor with gift cards is the same as any other wages and must be taxed. Food is only excluded from wages when it is food provided by you and consumed on the job, as part of the job, such as for a live-in maid. In addition, this exclusion applies only to the FICA portion of taxes. The extra compensation, regardless must be reported on the employee's W-2 as income.

So you are effectively illegally paying unreported income under the table, whether it is cash or a food card, so why bother with the food card cover. It is tax evasion either way.

Here is how it works. You pay $75 a week or $300 a month of unreported income using the food card. You save $23 a month in unreported Social Security taxes. The nanny also saves $23 a month in Social Security taxes. But the nanny is also giving up Social Security benefits because the income is unreported. It depends on her entire work history, but that $23 a month now means missing out on up to $270 a month in Social Security retirement benefits for the rest of her life.

As for her income taxes, her income is so low that she is probably paying little or no income tax at all, so under-reporting income is only benefiting you, not her.

So you are doing no favors by paying her with a food card instead of cash. You are just screwing her out of her social security retirement benefits to save yourself a few bucks a month in FICA taxes. And you are violating the law.
posted by JackFlash at 9:22 AM on September 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Especially if you're not legally residing in the US, $10/hr cash money looks better than a guarantee of minimum wage + obligation to pay payroll taxes.

California just voted to raise the minimum raise to $10/hr (to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015). Will this help at all?
posted by Room 641-A at 9:52 AM on September 16, 2013


I am not paying a nanny at all any more, so the point is moot -- but the food cards were a concession on our part. Cash was not an option. Increased salary, up to the same $34,000 budget on our end, was. But not a single candidate that we had preferred that option, though we always explicitly offered it. (The text I put in above was cut and pasted out of an actual e-mail.)

If the grocery store card still did not satisfy the IRS requirements -- well, the nanny agency suggested it. It seemed a practical solution. Ignorance may not be a legal defense, but it satisfies my conscience. We were really trying to stay within the law.
posted by OnceUponATime at 11:42 AM on September 16, 2013


California just voted to raise the minimum raise to $10/hr (to $9 in 2014 and $10 in 2015). Will this help at all?

$10 an hour full time is $19,200. The calculator says $1600 a month, but after taxes I bet that's more like $583 a paycheck in California.

Where the fuck can you live on that? I can't even think of any places in Seattle that would rent to you making that little, and in California they're taking state tax too. It's absolutely possible to make too little for low income housing here, and I bet it is there too.

Not to mention as I said, what job would you really get 40 hours at? And you'd be pushed directly on to aid like EBT/food stamps which hopefully you'd qualify for a decent amount of.

So no, it's absolutely a token change that doesn't really help shit. Especially for people living in or near bigger cities where the jobs are. But I guess they just "can't afford to live there" and that's an "extravagance" and they should move.
posted by emptythought at 1:21 PM on September 16, 2013


Paying for labor with gift cards is the same as any other wages and must be taxed. Food is only excluded from wages when it is food provided by you and consumed on the job, as part of the job, such as for a live-in maid.

I'm not sure this is correct - I know some large companies who had their contracts reviewed by lawyers that offer food reimbursement, say, if you are going to be traveling and such and cannot cook food at home.
posted by corb at 1:22 PM on September 16, 2013


Corb, I swear that has something to do with travel away from the primary workplace for work related reasons, or something. It must be some law that existed to legally expense the martini lunches ala don draper.

I've never heard of a place giving you lunch money while you were in town or on site at the main location. It's only done when traveling. There's gotta be something specific there.

I'd also note that if you work at a food place and get free food that doesn't count. That's pretty much always 100% under the table or counted in the system as a perk you get off the job.
posted by emptythought at 1:37 PM on September 16, 2013


We are talking specifically about household employees here. That is different from travel expenses for an employee working out of town. The company may reimburse you for expenses you incur while traveling on business. This is not the same as giving you money to buy groceries for your home.

For household employees, there is no effective difference between giving them cash to fill their refrigerator at home or giving them a gift card to fill their refrigerator at home. Both are considered income. You don't magically transform wages into non-taxable income by putting cash on a gift card.
posted by JackFlash at 1:41 PM on September 16, 2013


I think though - and I may be wrong, it's been a while since I was really scrutinizing this stuff - there is a lot of ability to work in benefits via, say, providing housing that is nontaxable as income, or company cards in order to buy lunches, or computers "for you to do your work at home" or paying for your entire phone and internet bill, not just the parts that are business-related, etc. I'm just noting that it seems strange for it to be okay for a company, but not for Joe Has-A-Nanny.

Genuine question, though - the idea of the gift card for a grocery store seems to really bother you, more perhaps than if just the cash was given. Is there a reason why?
posted by corb at 3:18 PM on September 16, 2013


I can't answer specifically for them, but i think the reason it bothers people in general is that it has that decisively class dividing tone and feel to it. Like what JackFlash themselves said above with

Ah, yes, the ultimate employer insult. We will give you food. As if they were helping out the destitute person on the corner with the cardboard sign who is so desperate that they "will work for food."

If you're paying someone so little that they can't afford food without this untaxed "gift" then something is clearly fucked up in this system. It's not an actual solution for anyone involved, just a "Hey i did my part" self back slap on the supply side, and a grin and bear it "better than nothing i guess" on the receiving side. And as has been mentioned above, it's likely not even legal.

I think it's the feeling that it somehow excuses the crappy pay or makes some meaningful difference is why it's upsetting people.

Basically, people can only afford this by completely shafting someone on meaningful income, which means that they can't. But people are willing to work for that little, so they justify it by going "but we throw them a bone once in a while!" and the old "but if it wasn't a livable wage why would people work for it!" chestnut.
posted by emptythought at 4:45 PM on September 16, 2013


Well, first off you have to understand that businesses can't do the things you suggest. You can't provide non-taxable benefits like housing or food. The only expenses you can deduct are expenses actually related to the execution of your business.

So that means when a nanny employer gives a food card in lieu of cash wages, they are illegally evading taxes by paying under the table. But worse, they are doing it in a way that saves themselves money but harms the nanny. The employer saves paying their share of FICA taxes, 7.65% of wages. But the nanny loses social security tax credits if income is not reported.

Social security is an extremely valuable benefit to lower income people and paying under the table robs them of that benefit. In the previous example, $300 a month was under that table. That represents only $23 of FICA taxes each month. If that income is not reported, that could mean as much as $270 less in social security each month for the rest of her life when the nanny retires.

Many low income people do not realize the value of that social security benefit, so when employers offer them money under the table, they are persuaded to take it. When the choice is "I can give you the money under the table or else take out FICA taxes, which would you rather do", the obvious answer is under the table.

However, they are making a decision with incomplete information. The real question should be if you would rather have an extra $23 a month under the table by evading taxes or else we can do things legitimately and you will receive an extra $270 a month in retirement for the rest of your life. Now which would you chose? Cheap employers never make the argument that way because they save more money by evading taxes. And then pretend that the nanny prefers it.

So regarding food cards, there is the legality issue, there is the retirements benefit issue. But there is also the simple issue of human dignity. If someone labors for wages, you don't pay them in coconuts, you don't pay them in groceries, you don't pay them in hand-me-down clothes. You pay them in cash, money they they can freely chose to spend as they like, just like every other human being.
posted by JackFlash at 4:58 PM on September 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


The real question should be if you would rather have an extra $23 a month under the table by evading taxes or else we can do things legitimately and you will receive an extra $270 a month in retirement for the rest of your life. Now which would you chose? Cheap employers never make the argument that way because they save more money by evading taxes. And then pretend that the nanny prefers it.

It is not unreasonable to imagine that the nanny does prefer being paid under the table now because, although she realises that in the long run the other choice is smarter, in the short run she cannot give up the money. It's part of why being poor is so expensive: you can't always afford to make the better long-term decision.
posted by jeather at 5:09 PM on September 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


It is not unreasonable to imagine that the nanny does prefer being paid under the table now because, although she realises that in the long run the other choice is smarter, in the short run she cannot give up the money.

Yeah, but realistically, I bet not one nanny in a thousand has ever had the real options presented. Cheap employers are motivated to present it in a way that sounds like the nanny is getting more money. No one has ever given them the full story to make an informed choice. This is known in economics as information asymmetry. One side in the bargain has more information than the other and uses it to take advantage of them.
posted by JackFlash at 5:20 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


When we were looking for a temp nanny while our regular nanny was out on leave, we actually had a hard time finding someone willing to be paid on the books. You can explain the long-term benefits of paying taxes, but there were plenty of people who preferred $23 now to $270 later.


Certainly there are employers who prefer to pay under the table also, and so it suits them not to lay out the facts, but for us it was not an option, and there were a lot of candidates who passed on us because of the taxes thing. It's not as one-sided as you might think.
posted by ambrosia at 5:27 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but realistically, I bet not one nanny in a thousand has ever had the real options presented. Cheap employers are motivated to present it in a way that sounds like the nanny is getting more money. No one has ever given them the full story to make an informed choice. This is known in economics as information asymmetry. One side in the bargain has more information than the other and uses it to take advantage of them.

This is fair and possibly even true. But i think you're selling a lot of people in low wage jobs short here. Many of them know quite a bit about how the benefits system works, and being poor != necessarily being uninformed or worse "stupid". It is often exactly what was being stated above that you know that a long term option would actually cost you less money, or if you could plan ahead and have less money right now it would benefit you later.

But very often you pick the most cash up front right then because you're basically choosing between having no cash after rent/food and possibly like having your phone shut off, or having a few hundred more bucks this month and having all that stuff paid even if you're worse off later.

The biggest nutpunch of being poor, and the biggest lid nailed down on the lower classes(big ass IMO here) is that you're always driven to the short term benefits options because the road to the benefits on the horizon looks so much more grim and uncertain, and arduous when you're already in the "fuck, god dammit" zone anyways.

And this is how and why you get people working under the table for that extra cash, and paying a couple bucks every month at the post office for a money order to pay rent instead of having an above board job and a bank account.

When a job pays like shit, if someone offers you a shady way that offers you more money you're going to take it, especially if it's a well known thing that your friends do and get away with.
posted by emptythought at 5:47 PM on September 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


you're always driven to the short term benefits options because the road to the benefits on the horizon looks so much more grim and uncertain, and arduous

Fair enough.
posted by JackFlash at 6:12 PM on September 16, 2013


When we were looking for a temp nanny while our regular nanny was out on leave, we actually had a hard time finding someone willing to be paid on the books.

One way to sweeten the pot and persuade more candidates to go on the books is offer to pay both halves of FICA taxes. This is fairly common for household help and perfectly legal. The extra part you pay on their behalf is counted as income for their income taxes, but many nannies make so little, they don't need to pay income taxes anyway. But, they may not realize that they have little or no income tax liability.
posted by JackFlash at 6:33 PM on September 16, 2013


$10 an hour full time is $19,200. The calculator says $1600 a month, but after taxes I bet that's more like $583 a paycheck in California.

Where the fuck can you live on that? I can't even think of any places in Seattle that would rent to you making that little, and in California they're taking state tax too. It's absolutely possible to make too little for low income housing here, and I bet it is there too.

Not to mention as I said, what job would you really get 40 hours at? And you'd be pushed directly on to aid like EBT/food stamps which hopefully you'd qualify for a decent amount of.

So no, it's absolutely a token change that doesn't really help shit. Especially for people living in or near bigger cities where the jobs are. But I guess they just "can't afford to live there" and that's an "extravagance" and they should move.
"

Yes, that's why I was asking within the context of this comment:

Especially if you're not legally residing in the US, $10/hr cash money looks better than a guarantee of minimum wage + obligation to pay payroll taxes.

I guess without enforcement it doesn't matter anyway.
posted by Room 641-A at 7:05 PM on September 16, 2013


So regarding food cards, there is the legality issue, there is the retirements benefit issue. But there is also the simple issue of human dignity. If someone labors for wages, you don't pay them in coconuts, you don't pay them in groceries, you don't pay them in hand-me-down clothes. You pay them in cash, money they they can freely chose to spend as they like, just like every other human

I think this may be an issue that is, in fact, like emptythought said above, maybe pinging more because of visible class lines than because of necessarily worker mistreatment.

For example: I greatly preferred when employers provided me with replacement computers, Metrocards, and paid for some of my bills rather than giving me the cash in my paycheck, because I actually do have tax liability, and even the cost of those things does add up significantly. I preferred when I was still in the military, and received an untaxed food allowance, clothing allowance, utilities, and housing allowance. But I'm not poor, and I never thought that it lessened my human dignity. An associate at a company we did business with, who was provided with a company house to live in rather than that cash directly for rent, vastly preferred lower cash income on the books, because he also had tax liability. (I think the official reason was that he needed to live close in case the business had after hours emergency needs) He also never thought that was beneath his dignity.

But I do get that viscerally, there's a real difference between, say, the physical object being handed to you, and it happening offstage, as it were. And also between the calibre of the items. If someone's providing you with a house to live in, it feels different than if you're being provided with a room in their house. If someone's providing you with money specifically for the purchase of clothing, or with a gift card to a clothing store, it's very different than someone handing you used clothing.
posted by corb at 4:38 AM on September 17, 2013


Come on. How many people who are getting paid in food cards have any appreciable income tax liability?
posted by tonycpsu at 7:17 AM on September 17, 2013


Have you never met someone so poor that they don't want even the tiniest portion of their check taken out? Even for the promise of a future forty years from now?
posted by corb at 7:34 AM on September 17, 2013


Weekly - 52 pay periods per year
Gross Pay Weekly: $530.00 Annual: $27,560.00
Federal Income Tax Weekly: ($53.32) Annual: ($2,772.64)
Social Security Weekly: ($32.86) Annual: ($1,708.72)
Medicare Weekly: ($7.69) Annual: ($399.88)
State Income Tax Weekly: ($22.00) Annual: ($1,144.00)
Employee Take-home Pay Weekly: $414.14 Annual: $21,535.28
Total Employer Responsibility Weekly: $589.79 Annual: $30,545.41

My example did not involve someone making so little that they would not owe federal income taxes.
posted by OnceUponATime at 8:14 AM on September 17, 2013


OnceUponATime, I think youre getting defensive about your particular situation when the problem is there is no regulation to ensure your situation is the norm, or that there are benefits and job security (and minimum wage!) let alone living wages involved in the process. Seriously I don't think anyone is trying to argue that you were providing abusive employment-- rather that you're defending the state of affairs that is occurring for many women in domestic service by focusing on what was going on in your situation.

There are some major societal problems with how we simultaneously demand domestic labor be cheap and also high quality, witch domestic workers often taking the hit. It also breeds an unhealthy dynamic between domestic labors and their employers in which the class difference does not seem to foster the kind of dynamic you might want your child to be cared under. Making it possible for parents to both parent AND be part of the workforce is extremely important and domestic labor is a part of that equation, but the situation as now really devalues the worth of love, familial closeness, time together, and a lot of things that I think are worth fighting for and that I do NOT think have to be sacraficed in increasing opportunities for women to be educated, make valuable contributions and have good pay and job options. Increasing maternity leave and entry back into the work force, increase support services for families who will be financiall crunched by reducing work hours, ensuring parents who work part time have insurance options.. there is a lot I think we need to be working for.

Underpaid, or sometimes not even minimum wage paid domestic servents is NOT the grand solution to making sure women (middle and upperclass women) get to have their children well cared AND to do the work they really want to do with the pay they want. That's not a good solution. There are other solutions and a lot of problems here worth working on, but you're kind of acting like "well there's nothing we can do about it, it just is" and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that the way it worked fine for you in your situation, and possibly for the domestic help you hired as well.

We're talking about other situations where it's not working as well.
posted by xarnop at 8:34 AM on September 17, 2013


Also, arguments used by highly paid working women to keep competitive in the workforce and follow their dreams and pay desires such as "Any caregiver is the same as a parent, daycare is just the same for a 6 month old, nursing isn't that important"

Are the same arguments that trap lower income women into SIX WEEKS of maternity leave, into being left by a husband and having to share split custody half the week with a months old nursing infant that they do NOT want to be separated from half the week... not being allowed to work part time because there are no living wages or guaranteed healthcare for parents trying to both parent and rear children.

The arguments work for women being paid well who can hire quality nannies and expensive day cares to fill the need for nurturing their children, but for other women who would rather do it themselves the policies that result can be extremely harmful and traumatic.
posted by xarnop at 8:39 AM on September 17, 2013


corb: "Have you never met someone so poor that they don't want even the tiniest portion of their check taken out? Even for the promise of a future forty years from now?"

I've actually been that person earlier in my life, but (a) you've set up a false dichotomy, because there is no situation in which a food card is preferable to cash under the table, and (b) everyone's utility function for some income now in lieu of some income later is going to be different, yet many people are not being given the choice as to how they'd like to be compensated.

OnceUponATime: " My example did not involve someone making so little that they would not owe federal income taxes."

Your example also did not indicate the net tax liability, which is what matters. Obviously FICA/Medicare witholdings are a now or (possibly) later tradeoff, but my point was that a large number of the people being forced to accept food cards instead of cash aren't going to end up with any net income tax liability.
posted by tonycpsu at 8:40 AM on September 17, 2013


Making it possible for parents to both parent AND be part of the workforce is extremely important and domestic labor is a part of that equation, but the situation as now really devalues the worth of love, familial closeness, time together, and a lot of things that I think are worth fighting for and that I do NOT think have to be sacraficed in increasing opportunities for women to be educated, make valuable contributions and have good pay and job options.

I don't think it devalues those things at all. I think in fact it's quite possible to have love, familial closeness, and time together, even if there's someone else caring for your child throughout the day and cleaning your house. In fact, it means you have more time for closeness. I hire a cleaner, as I said. Why? So I can shamefully neglect my family? No, so I don't have to spend Saturday cleaning instead of spending time with my family.

you've set up a false dichotomy, because there is no situation in which a food card is preferable to cash under the table,


It's called a moral - and perhaps legal - fig leaf. In reality, you know that you are giving them a food card, or utilities, or a computer, or phone, because you both want to avoid paying taxes, and you know this will squeak by. It's either not illegal, or in the gray area between legal and illegal and it's going to take a lot of lawyers to have it be illegal. You're not going to get busted in the same way that you will if you give them cash under the table - or at least, not have the fear of it.

If someone's going to give cash under the table, they're going to give cash under the table. But if they're not going to give cash under the table, food cards under the table are the next best thing.
posted by corb at 8:58 AM on September 17, 2013


I fail to see how gift cards, which show up in a database when redeemed, are preferable to cash, which doesn't. You still have to buy the gift cards you're using as compensation with some form of cash, which means it shows up on your end as well. It's not like there's some legal gray area here that would require extra legal wrangling -- you're compensating your employees, and neither of you is paying the requisite taxes.

In other words, this is a hare-brained Rube Goldberg scheme that has no positive consequences for either side, and very negative consequences for the person being paid in a less liquid asset.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:03 AM on September 17, 2013


It's been a while since I've used gift cards, but I don't think you had to present ID when spending them that I remember. Is this a post-9/11 thing?
posted by corb at 9:04 AM on September 17, 2013


I'm surprised there's not really such thing as the childminder in the US. My mum worked part-time, but she worked shifts, so until I was old enough to stay home alone for a few hours when I was nine or ten, I'd go to someone else's home for snacks and TV until my mum could pick me up. Where there can be no informal arrangement with extended family (my sister could rely on my parents to 'watch the kids') a lot of parents do this.
posted by mippy at 9:10 AM on September 17, 2013


But that's the point corb, full time work, when offset by outsourcing domestic labor, can allow for time together.

The lower classes are what make quality of life better for the higher classes. However as you're a libertarian I doubt we will see eye to on this... ;) I'm not comfortable letting people suffer so we have different agenda's. (And btw, I'm not going to engage you on whether solidarity with others is valuable or not, or libertarianism meets that agenda, that is a no win conversation)

You're comfortable with it because you're paid well. I've been busy dealing with dissociative PTSD and learning disability and I have to be the one to serve because those high paying jobs are not going to be in the cards for me.

I think women's rights involves people like me as well and not just your interests. I have a child as well and my child's rights to time with a nurturing caregiver are equal to those of people of other earning status. And yeah I've been hungry as crap, thankfully since this is not a libertarian nation, I can use food stamps and I and my children can eat. I am so thankful for that. There has been plenty of reseach indicating that full time work at 6 weeks is not healthy.

If you can hire a one on nanny or a day care with a low ratio the care may be comparable, but most of us can't do that. And that's a problem for the children who are stuck being impacted by these policies as well as the mothers.

Domestic service that is low paid seems like an easy solution but it reflects a climate in which we aren't willing to put protections in place that value caregiving on a societal level and create safety nets for mothers (and/or fathers) to be with their children. Women should be able to take at least a year out of the workforce with a method of re-entry to care for their own children.

I don't appreciate women with more power than me arguing that 6 weeks is adequate to shove women back into the work force. There's a lot of research indicating that full time work at 6 weeks is not so great for infant outcomes either although highly paid women's children will fair better under that model.
posted by xarnop at 9:15 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


And yeah, thank god we have at least some safety net in the US and I don't have to resort to sex work to feed my child, which I would be "grateful for" according to libertarian agenda. HA! Yeah that is not empathy or caring about other humans whatsoever. Spare me the "but I offered a job, now be grateful for whatever it is" BS that drives the lack of living wage, lack of benefits, in this country to begin with. It's harmful and causes suffering that could be changed.
posted by xarnop at 9:22 AM on September 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


corb: "It's been a while since I've used gift cards, but I don't think you had to present ID when spending them that I remember. Is this a post-9/11 thing?"

No, you don't, but there is a lot more of a paper trail with them than with cash. If the employer is careful enough to buy the gift cards with cash, then perhaps it's no more dangerous than actually spending cash, but cash is harder to trace on both ends, so, again, there is nothing about gift cards that is more preferable for either person on either end than cash under the table.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:04 AM on September 17, 2013


Holy shit can we give the gift card thing a rest? The thread really has successfully been made all about onceuponatime at this point. It's a fig leaf grey area to illegal thing that's to let them feel good about giving cash under the table, but worse than cash. Everyone has ping ponged these points a kabillion times now.

I mean fuck, lets talk about anything but the stupid ass gift cards.
posted by emptythought at 2:21 PM on September 17, 2013


I'm surprised there's not really such thing as the childminder in the US.

There are - we call them "Family childcare providers" - but a lot of people don't want to go into it because the licensing is so expensive and the requirements so onerous.
posted by corb at 2:40 PM on September 17, 2013


And but so anyway... Yes, nannies and other domestic workers should have paid sick leave and time off and health insurance and should be paid above the table. (If you're being paid under the table, you might as well buy your own health insurance, since it is in no way cheaper for anyone to have your domestic employer buy it.) Until there is real enforcement of those rules, though, people who try to follow them are at a real disadvantage in being able to actually get people to work for them.

Solutions I'm cautiously in favor of: Unions. Stricter enforcement of labor laws so I don't have to compete with under-the-table employers. Public day care. Longer, better-paid maternity and paternity leave.

Solutions I'm not in favor of: at least one parent has to always stay at home (almost always the woman.) Or: only very rich women get to work.

The end.
posted by OnceUponATime at 4:39 AM on September 19, 2013


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