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The real nanny diaries: Domestic workers struggle with no minimum wage and poor working conditions

No minimum wage, no overtime pay and working ’round the clock? It may sound illegal, but it’s perfectly legit when it comes to domestic workers. Nannies, housekeepers and caregivers don’t enjoy the basic labor rights the rest of us have, and a new report shows just how much they’re suffering because of it.

The average live-in nanny makes $6.76 an hour. Half of them worked long hours without breaks and a quarter were allowed less than 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep. On average, domestic workers make $10 and nearly a quarter of them make less than their state’s minimum wage. These are just a few of the stats released in Home Economics: The Invisible and Unregulated World of Domestic Work, released Tuesday by the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance and researched by the University of Illinois in Chicago’s Center for Urban Economic Development and DataCenter.

What I found most interesting is why these disparities in labor rights came to be. According to the report, laws like the National Labor Standards Act exclude domestic workers and farm hands from their protections. So do Illinois laws and most other states as well. Why? Because the NLSA was passed in the 1930s, and in order to get the votes needed to pass Congress, lawmakers excluded domestic and agricultural workers from labor protections to get the votes of Southern politicians, the report explains. Who did those jobs in the South? Black people. By excluding those professions, Southern officials could ensure that the black labor force couldn’t form a union and demand better conditions.

So, the law was drafted that way specifically to keep minority citizens from getting too much economic power, and it’s never been amended.

And since domestic workers are still primarily women of color, the law reinforces long-standing economic disparities. A racist law still creating racial inequity.

Sounds like it’s time for change.

This post was originally published on Nov. 28, 2012 at Chicago Muckrakers.