The COVID-19 pandemic has already led to a significant increase in layoffs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 281,000 new unemployment claims filed by the middle of March in industries ranging from hospitality to warehousing to transportation.

Economists say the number of people losing their jobs because of the public health crisis could be in the millions.

Those numbers likely don’t reflect the loss of work for one of the most economically vulnerable workers in our society—the domestic worker—many of whom work off the books and don’t qualify for unemployment benefits, nor do they get paid time-off.

These are the house cleaners who clean our homes, the nannies who take care of our children, and the home care workers who tend to our sick and elderly loved ones.

Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance (Photo: NDWA)

“It’s some of the most important work in our economy because it really does hold us all up,” says Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance. “It holds up our families so that working-age adults can go out and do what they need to do in the world knowing that their families are in good care.”

“One of the things that’s always been so ironic to me is that we all know how fundamental this work is and yet it’s some of the most undervalued and insecure work in our whole economy,” says Poo in an interview we did this week for my Work in Progress podcast.

Poo says the situation is difficult for domestic workers in normal times and is made even more fragile in the midst of this health crisis.

“We’re looking at a situation where, like many other low-wage-insecure workers, they are needing to stay home to make sure that we can slow the spread of the virus in this moment and keep our families and ourselves safe and healthy but they really can’t afford to do so. Most do not have the kind of savings to be able to continue to pay for food without working. And so they’re really put in an impossible situation of having to choose between protecting their health and putting food on the table.”

We also look specifically at the home health care worker. On average, they make just $16,000 a year, yet they are part of the most essential workforce in this national public health crisis.

“They are making sure that our hospital systems don’t become overburdened and are preventing deaths. These are women, mostly women and women of color, who barely make ends meet doing this work. So now is a time that we have to value them and protect them and really support them,” says Poo.

She and the National Domestic Workers Alliance are asking that families that are still receiving an income please continue providing an income for your cleaner, your nanny, your caregiver. Poo points out that “most domestic workers are primary income earners for their families and they have none of the same kinds of job security or benefits that most workers have in the economy.”

You can download and listen to my full Work in Progress interview with Ai-jen Poo wherever you get your podcasts. You can find links to and more information about previous episodes here on WorkingNation.com.

The Alliance also has set up a fund to help domestic workers who are not getting paid and are in need of financial assistance. You can read more about how you can help at their website, domesticworkers.org.

Stay healthy.

Episode 124: Ai-jen Poo, National Domestic Workers Alliance
Host: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch, Melissa Panzer, and Ramona Schindelheim
Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4.0.

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