The “Illegals” and Our Professional Classes

In our last post on “illegals,” we looked at the odd refusal, by the press, to call the capitalist employers of illegal migrants “illegals.” Today, I want to work out a similar kink in the discourse by looking at the nannies who are employed by the professional class on up (that is, by the 0.1% and the 9.9%). The supply chain and labor market for migrants, illegal or not, is insanely complicated, and so I’m only going to look at nannies, and not at yard men, construction workers, restaurant workers, factory workers, etc. The complexity also makes solid numbers hard to come by. But there are generalizations that we can make, as we shall see. After making those generalizations, we’ll conclude with some telling anecdotes.

“Nannies” were first weaponized in political discourse during the Clinton administration (as retrospectively we might expect, since Clinton represented and embodied the then fresh ascendancy of the professional classes (the 9.9%) in the Democrat Party). “NannyGate” derailed Clinton’s nominations of corporate lawyer Zoë Baird and Federal Judge Kimba Wood for Attorney General, Baird because she employed an illegal migrant after it was illegal to employ them and didn’t pay the nanny’s taxes, Wood because she employed an illegal migrant even though when she did it was legal to do so. “The Nannygate matter caused wealthy Americans to ask each other if they too had a ‘Zoë Baird problem’, as the hiring of illegal aliens and the paying of household help off the books were both commonplace.” And so — speculating freely — we have solved that potential optics problem with the ubiquituous nanny brokers (“agencies”) of today, chat boards that share tips for explain the risks of hiring nannies, all of which are filled with “I don’t, but I have heard that others do” comments.

As far as the class angle goes, the median hourly wage for all nannies in the United States is $14.59 an hour (in New York, $17.63). The median hourly wage (pause for toothgrinding calculation) for all occupations is $18.12. Taking income as a proxy for class, and assuming that being a nanny is a full time job, it seems reasonable to conclude that the working class (the 90%) isn’t hiring nannies (except perhaps for labor aristocrats)[1]. That means that the labor market for nannies is made by the 9.9% and the 0.1%; they are the ones doing the hiring.

So let’s take a look at that labor market. It would not be fair to say that all, or even most, nannies are illegal migrants. (The illegality comes in at another angle, which I’ll get to.) From GTM Payroll Services in 2015, and taking “maids and housekeepers” as a proxy for nannies:

According to a Pew Research Center study published last year, there were 8.1 million unauthorized immigrants either working or looking for work in 2012. The study also shows that the largest number of unauthorized immigrant workers are found in service occupations, which include maids, cooks, or groundskeepers. In fact, maids and housekeepers account for 25% of undocumented workers within those occupations. These employees make up a critical part of our economy.

We have no numbers for nannies hired illegally by the 0.1%, but we do have telling anecdotes, as of this from Hollywood actress and producer Amber Heard. (The median yearly salary for a Hollywood produder is “just $66,121.”) From TMZ:

The actress took to Twitter just after midnight on Tuesday and said, “Just heard there’s an ICE checkpoint in [H]ollywood, a few blocks from where I live. Everyone better give their housekeepers, nannies and landscapers a ride home tonight.”

“Everyone,” eh? Some in the 0.1% (those who don’t hire elite nannies) might actually prefer hiring nannies illegally, since that gives them more leverage. Reading between the lines:

There are approximately 2 million domestic workers in the United States today. They often work for wealthy families, including international businesspeople and diplomats, cleaning their houses and caring for their loved ones. Trafficking is a common reality. In 2016 domestic work represented the largest sector of all labor traffcking cases reported to the National Human Traffcking Resource Center. Often domestic workers who are traffcked are trapped, their passports confscated, their jobs contracts are violated, they are forced to work long hours for little pay, their movements restricted and monitored, they are threatened with arrest and deportation if

they try to escape, and treated without dignity or respect.

However, for most of those who employ nannies — that is, the 9.9% — the issue is not illegal presence, but illegal employment, specifically the failure to pay taxes[2]. From a nanny agency:

When people talk about legal versus illegal nannies they are not referring to citizenship status, but whether or not someone is legally allowed to work in the United States. A nanny who is not a U.S. citizen may still be in the country legally—for example on a tourist visa or a student visa—but unless she actually has a work visa or a green card, she is technically not allowed to seek employment.

That said, many parents hire nannies despite the fact that they do not have the appropriate paperwork. They get around this by paying “off the books”—that is, they pay cash under the table so that the nanny doesn’t have to report or pay taxes on the income. In the nanny world, off-the-books is so incredibly common many parents do it, even if their nanny is a U.S. citizen. This is because it is much less expensive and easier to do. In the beginning some families are not certain if their nanny will last and wait to place them on the books after that trial which they end up forgetting.

However, paying your nanny off-the-books is against the law. If you are an employer, you are legally required by the federal and state governments to report any wages paid and withhold your employee’s taxes and social security.

The important piece to understand when assessing your childcare options is there are some risks to hiring illegal nannies: they could be deported, you cannot travel with them out of the country and they could possess a more fearful attitude toward certain situations.

I hate the Twitter locution “let that sink in,” but I think “when assessing your childcare options … there are some risks to hiring illegal nannies” deserves it.

So, how widespread are illegal nanny employers? At least according to Nanny.org, “there are between 800,000 and 1.2 million professional nannies living and working in the United States” (and that qualifier, “professional,” makes me think the real number is higher). Contrast that number to the number of legal employers:

Only about 250,000 households in the U.S. report household employee wages, even when workers like nannies providing childcare services should be reported as a W-2 domestic employee.

According to the IRS, Schedule H filings have declined, even though the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that child care worker and home health aide positions are growing. Although there are many factors at play, tax evasion is likely a main cause of this discrepancy — less than 9% of surveyed domestic employees worked for an employer who paid into Social Security.

Overall, it’s estimated that up to 75% to 95% of people who employ domestic workers don’t pay employment taxes. That’s a lot of people who could find themselves in serious legal trouble — and the plea of “everyone’s doing it” won’t hold up in court.

Even though, from Amber Heard, we know that in fact “everyone” is doing it. So, take the lowball estimate of 800,000 nanny employers. Of those employers, 250,000, or about 30%, are legal. And if you don’t lowball the estimates, you get numbers like 5% to 25%. And once again, to make the class angle clear, the working class can’t afford to hire nannies. That means the illegal employers are the 9.9% on up to the 0.1%. And the less secure (more “aspirational”) these employers are in their class — “A lot of people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth” — the more incentive they have to pay their nanny under the table.

So, why do we never call these illegal professional employers “illegals”? Or perhaps more precisely: Why do the professionals in the media, legal, educational, medical, entertainment, and political classes never call each other “illegals”? Why are the only “illegals” always working class? A question that answers itself, once asked[3].

* * *

I said I’d offer some telling anecdotes; here’s one, from the Beltway, on optics. From DC Urban Mom:

It seems like everyone I know in the greater DC area hires documented nannies, for very obvious reasons (namely that its the law, we have many federal workers, etc.). Personally, I have no problem hiring an undocumented worker and realize that I’d be breaking the law by doing so. No need to tell me how I’m terrible I am for cheating the government. Frankly, I’d be helping an individual and their family who otherwise might not have work. I’m okay with that.

If they are undocumented I pay less and don’t pay any extras to the gov’t (whats the point, they are undoc) so no taxes or withholdings or anything. It saves us a lot of money.

I interviewed nannies. Maybe because of my low advertised range, half wanted cash with no reporting to the IRS. The breakdown was that two were citizens, one had a green card, and three were undocumented. I personally liked one of the undocumented person the best, but I couldn’t get this nagging feeling out of me. While I was dragging my feet as to whether to go with illegals or not, ironically, she stopped communicating with me because she asked for a higher rate and we said no. The stereotype that illegals command a lower wage was not true in my limited anecdotal nanny search journey. She was getting $15 PT and wanted me to basically match it. I have not hired anyone yet but my final two are citizens who said yes to my rates advertised.

Let me also hoist this extraordinary anecdote from my own comment here. From “Why I Hired a Nanny”:

[T]he last twenty years, I have been fortunate to harness the effects of upward mobility. My former working-class, rural upbringing has morphed gradually into an upper-class, urban existence. The beat-up used cars and cramped row homes of my youth have been replaced with BMWs and six-bedroom Victorians. Another new experience—unheard of in my childhood but common among my current friends and neighbors—is the use of nannies.

How to find a nanny

I’m comfortable doing most of my own research before a large purchase. However, you can’t yet buy nannies on Amazon (at least not until Robonannies become a thing).

Of course, for the 9.9%, legal is the same as optional[4]:

Some choose to (illegally) pay nannies under the table, i.e. without taxes.

Because it’s always about “choice,” isn’t it? However, this employer is exceptionally scrupulous:

One of the candidates we interviewed and otherwise quite liked strongly preferred to be paid this way—a deal breaker for us. When our nanny agreed to be paid “over the table,” we breathed a sigh of relief….. In the end, we decided to use a “nanny tax service” at the cost of ~$1000/yr. I know, I know. But for this fee, they direct deposit our nanny’s paycheck after automatically withholding the appropriate taxes; collect and remit all federal and state taxes (employee and employer) on a quarterly basis; and provide and file all the necessary tax paperwork come April/

So, exceptionally, this employer is legal (though when the paperwork costs $1,000 a year, you can see why an employer hanging onto their professional aspirations by “the skin of their teeth” would choose to avoid it). However, there’s so much else here that Thomas Frank would love: (1) “Dr. Curious” answered the Professional Question — “Why don’t they just move?” — with a resounding “I will!” Further — sharing an attitude with the 0.1% — (2) Dr. Curious would be happy replacing her human “purchase” with a robot, once the technology is there. Almost an ideal type, no? But think of the children…

NOTES

[1] After all, if workers were able to hire other workers, they’d be capitalists, right? Except for casual labor, of course. (As I keep saying, it’s complicated!)

[2] “Failure to pay employment taxes for ANY worker, legal or undocumented, is felony tax evasion.” Granted, from a broker.

[3] From Pew Research: “Six states account for 59% of unauthorized immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.” I’ve helpfully highlighted the “optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward” liberal Democrat strongholds.

[4] Perhaps should be more civil, and instead of calling these lawbreaking employers “illegals,” I should call them “optionals.”

NOTE

I don’t feel the research in this post — except for the anecdotes! — is up to my usual standards, and I’m sorry. In my defense, the nanny labor market itself, being at least partly underground, is complicated, so numbers are hard to come by. Official categories are not always on point (“domestic workers”). And above all, in Google, it was almost impossible to find anything, because there are pages and pages and pages of links about how to hire nannies, and problems with nannies after having hired them, and nanny brokerage publicity. On top of all that, I have never had to hire a nanny personally, so the terms and conditions of nanny employment, and hence what to search on, are unfamiliar to me. Sorry to whinge; improvements to the data gladly accepted!

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

64 comments

  1. Arizona Slim

    What, pray tell, is so difficult about raising your own children? Why do you have to hire someone to do it for you?

    Or is this just another status thing?

    Reply
    1. RUKidding

      Depends. In some cases, both parents work high power – eg, long long hours – jobs and simply need help with managing their households and raising their kids.

      In some cases, one parent makes ginormous buckeroos and the other parent is “busy” with ???? In that case, I think it’s mostly a status thing, plus maybe the non-working parent just isn’t all that into their children.

      Reply
    2. Kurtismayfield

      Judging from prior experience of working on a liberal top 5% stronghold in the Northeast, they needed to hire au pairs so that they could get to yoga class and stop for a skinny vanilla latte on the way to their next social engagement.

      In other words, they do it for convenience.

      Reply
      1. JohnnyGL

        Yeah, I’m often aghast at the social lives some parents can manage to pull off. I know some that have taken entire 1-2 week vacations without the kids.

        Keep in mind, having healthy grandparents available that can help out can often substitute for nannies. So, think about the class marker of having able-bodied, cancer-free 60-somethings that can jump in and help with child care for 20+ hours a week.

        Think about what it means in today’s America to have 3 generations (grandparents through kids) of healthy people in a nation awash in obesity, chronic pain, and other various ailments.

        Reply
        1. jrs

          think about the class marker of being able to take a paid day off work also never mind one to two weeks.

          Reply
    3. Dan

      I was totally flabbergasted by the nanny boom when I first had kids. Growing up in Oakland I certainly never met anyone with a nanny (having two married parents was as fancy as it got). Now they’re everywhere, at least in certain neighborhoods burnt-over by gentrification.

      If you have more than one young child, it can actually be cheaper to hire a nanny than put your kids in full-day daycare (which here in the SF Bay Area can easily cost $1500-2000/mo per child). And since most families can’t get by on one income, someone has to watch little Hyacinth. A cognate innovation is the ‘nanny share’, where two or more families jointly hire a nanny to look after multiple kids to save money. Weird but true!

      Most of the people I’ve met who’ve hired nannies are kind of embarrassed about it, since it doesn’t exactly scream ‘lefty street cred’ (which is de rigueur for the 9.9% in my area). It’s often a major financial stretch to make sure mom (usually) can keep a hold on her career ladder. So it’s not always a status symbol – though plays an important role in ensuring continued membership in the credentialed classes.

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        > the 9.9% in my area

        Thank you. I would like to propagate this, because the typography visually suggests a split in the way that “10%” does not (and I should hat tip the commenter who invented this, but I can’t. Raise a hand, alert reader!)

        E.g., 9<— . —>9….

        Reply
        1. Skip Intro

          Didn’t the 9.9% come from a relatively recent article you linked? IIRC it was celebrated as an adoption of the NC/Frank 10% meme, with the benefit of cutting out the 0.1%, and making the structural role of the 9.9% apparent.

          Reply
        2. drumlin woodchuckles

          I think I remember trying something vaguely similar: the top One, the next Nine, and the lower Ninety at the bottom. It went nowhere at the time.

          Reply
      2. JohnnyGL

        I’m in Boston suburbs. My youngest child (pre-school age) is at the local YMCA (fairly average, there’s definitely more upscale places if you want to splash out). It’s $1200/month.

        You’re not out of the woods once they are school age….there’s after school day care and summers to fill. Day Camp for my oldest is $300/week (again YMCA, and again there’s cheaper and more expensive if you want it).

        Of course, you need to give your kid some kind of activities to join, right? Sports, music lessons all cost more.

        This is broader than top 9.9%ers, it’s at least top 1/5th.

        Reply
    4. Chris

      It’s not just status Slim. It’s mainly about convenience and sanity for former DINKs who have transitioned into DIWKs. It’s hard to have kids and work the hours you need to work to support them in a middle class lifestyle. Having someone at home watching them or getting them off the school bus saves you one more trip.

      We haven’t hired nannies, but we have used after school babysitters. It’s much the same thing. And it’s still not cheap. But it is cheaper and more convenient than daycare for most people I know.

      Reply
    5. Mark

      For some it might be a status thing. But for many it is a natural consequence of the change in gender roles in our society and work places. Combine this with an inflexible full time work traditions and nannies are the obvious choice for people who earn significantly above average wages.

      I’m Australian. Nannies are certainly becoming more common here. However most of them are normal citizens, the pay and work life is good. (US$20-$25) Tax avoidance is probably common but it is certainly not abnormal pay the applicable taxes.

      Reply
    6. redleg

      Often there are long waiting lists that new parents aren’t prepared for or aware of, and a nanny/manny becomes the only option at that time.

      Reply
    7. bones

      Schumpeter says one servant is worth a thousand gadgets. Wouldn’t know myself, as I’ve never been served, except at a restaurant and the like, and I prefer to order food at the counter and bring it to the table myself.

      Reply
  2. RUKidding

    I have a born in the USA citizen relation who has been a nanny most of her working life and is now in her mid-40s (lots of issues with that, but that’s another story).

    This relation lives in the Chicago area, fwiw, but also did some nannying years ago in Los Angeles. In LA she faced stiff competition from undocumented workers, who, at that time anyway, charged way less than what my relative could afford (to live on).

    In Chicago I believe she’s mostly paid over the table somehow bc she does pay taxes and has money deposited into Soc Sec.

    It’s a helluva way to make a living, especially past a certain age. There is no job security. Even if you find a “good” family who treats and pays you well – a real rarity – the kids grow up, and you’re no longer needed. Most of the rich assholes that my relative has worked for have been not great to really really awful.

    I don’t know how much my relation makes, but it’s not much, that’s for sure. She’s always living hand to mouth and constantly bugging her now aging parents for money to pay the rent. Not a good job, unless you live with someone else and can share expenses.

    Reply
  3. RUKidding

    My other nanny story is that a good friend of mine employed a nanny for many years when her child was young. She and her husband both had demanding jobs. The nanny was treated as part of family, and they still see her. The nanny was an immigrant but had become a citizen. They were very emphatic about paying her over the table, paying taxes and paying into Soc Sec and Medicare.

    They wanted to do the right thing for many reasons, one of which was to ensure that this person could collect Soc Sec and Medicare when she retired.

    They were very busy. The nanny was definitely not a status symbol for this couple. I don’t know how much they paid their nanny. This was decades ago in Houston.

    Reply
    1. ArcadiaMommy

      This is similar to our experience. We employed two young women on a part-time basis, both US citizens, when my boys were little (I am talking about multiple naps per day and nursing ages). My husband was going on overseas business trips and I was in dire need of sleep, socializing and exercise (selfish mommy!). Not to mention needing to get work done.

      Both of these young women are still a part of our family. We went to one’s wedding last year and became friends with her mother and still see them often. I tutored the other gal so she could get through the ASVAB and she relies on us for different things.

      We have friends trying to find a nanny who is willing to be paid over the table and it has been hard for them to find someone who will agree to this. The mom has a condition that makes it physically difficult for her to keep up with her kids so it isn’t a luxury in any way.

      I am sort of stunned that the pay is so low, at least based on what I know about what other moms are paying.I pay between $15 and $25 per hour based on how many kids are around (older kids = friends hanging around).

      Ultimately, I threw in the towel on full-time work. It just isn’t worth harassing yourself if your spouse can pick up the slack. We don’t have the trappings that some of our friends have but we are also still married.

      Thank goodness that kids grow up.

      Reply
      1. Katniss Everdeen

        So, where does your friend live? I happen to know a great nanny who’s leaving her job after 14 years. Before that, she raised my daughter for 11 years. She has absolutely stellar references.

        Reply
      2. ChrisPacific

        I’ve hired them temporarily (generally for 1-2 days) during a period when my wife (normally SAHM) was experiencing health issues. I was using up all my leave staying home to cover when she was unwell, so in an attempt to prevent that from becoming career threatening I turned to a nanny service. On the occasions when we had some advance warning (which was about half the time) this was great. They could generally find someone on 12-24 hours’ notice, the nannies were never less than satisfactory, and the best were excellent.

        I was always clear that it was a temporary measure and we could never have afforded to maintain it full time. I think there is always going to be a class/inequality dimension to permanent nanny placements because you are essentially paying for someone’s full time job out of your own earnings (or other financial means). There is simply no way that works unless one is much larger than the other.

        That nanny agency quote (and the linked site) are rather unsettling. It’s fairly clear from the context that illegal hires are regarded as part of the service rather than part of the competition. We paid our agency directly and they paid the nannies after withholding taxes and commission, but that was outside the US and probably followed a different model. I made a bet before looking that this one relies on placement and other fees and stays out of the actual employment contract to skirt liability. Sure enough, that’s exactly what they do. There is a section advising nannies on how to set up a contract, and while there is a stern disclaimer about how they can’t place anyone who is not legally entitled to work in the US, confirmation of legal employment status is not mentioned in the documentation requirements. And then we get gems like this one:

        Since your fee is based on the nanny’s salary, doesn’t that incentivize you to negotiate higher salary rates for your nannies?
        This is a valid question, which is why we feel the need to address it. The fear of us benefiting from a nanny’s salary becoming astronomically high is a real one; however, our reputation has been formed from our time spent doing what’s best for our clients. We have not, and will not, compromise our integrity or our reputation to squeeze out a few extra dollars from a nanny’s marginally higher salary. Furthermore, while we counsel families on the suggested salary to offer a chosen candidate, it is ultimately up to the family to determine their nanny’s salary.

        Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > The nanny was treated as part of family

      Like Sally Hemings, eh?

      Not saying these issues aren’t complicated. One area I didn’t get to, and this is pure speculation: The babies aspect of Abolish ICE protests has to do with (a) protecting migrant nannies, which is laudably empathetic besides being economic self-interest, but also (b) has a component of guilt, now able to find expression, for abandoning babies to a care-giver; and (b) the workers who prepare the lattés and serve the artisanal pickles and drive the cabs and run the foot carts in urban areas also tend to be migrants. So again, the empathy is laudable, but needs to be directed to the entire working class, not just those one interacts with in everyday minor commericial transactions.

      Human empathy and ruthless class interest is a tough combination. Call it “the servant problem”..

      Reply
      1. dcblogger

        oh please, the babies part of the ICE controversy is any healthy mammal’s visceral horror at the sight of child abuse.

        Reply
        1. marym

          I attended one of the events on 6/30 in a very white, middle class suburb. All ages, including lots of young families. Maybe some of them had nannies. From the chants, the signs, and the speakers I would say people were there exactly as you say; and also as a positive declaration that as a community we intend to be something good, a place of inclusion and acceptance, not what the current hate-mongerers are instigating.

          Reply
      2. fajensen

        Don’t forget: Other people have done the “grab the babies of the unworthy and hand them to proper people*” policy before.

        They had names: like Franco, Pinochet, that German person?, and those catholic nuns in Ireland.

        Quite apart from traumatising babies, this sends a clear signal about the values of the regime.

        *)
        Apparently one can in principle get ones child back on paying a fee of 4-digits amounts of USD.
        One wonders if those holding pens are also privatised and the fee should cover the loss of future profits.

        Reply
  4. Carolinian

    Can’t have an aristocracy without servants. Perhaps the interesting thing is that Amber Heard assumed giving her maid a ride home would get her through the ICE checkpoint. Movie stars (and she’s barely one) get waved through?

    Down south black women served this role as seen in The Help or more benignly Member of the Wedding from the 1950s. They were legal citizens but under a different Jim Crow cloud. Perhaps it’s not just about the money and our unnatural aristocrats feel the need for a distinct power differential from the underlings. It takes generations to make the more relaxed lordliness of a Downton Abbey.

    Reply
    1. ArcadiaMommy

      Anecdotal but yes, having a white person driving a nice car does actually get you through the checkpoints. I’m no movie star but I drive through them all the time with my family going back and forth to San Diego (you can see the wall that is already there from I8!) and we always get waved through while everyone else is getting their cars swept by mirrors and dogs.

      I am not white, my husband is. They know we would squawk if we were harassed so they wave us through.

      Reply
    2. johnnygl

      Instinctively, i agree with you about aspiring aristocrats need servants as status symbols.

      But i think there’s more going on here. Some of the comments above indicate that families with more than a bit of discretionary income find this to be the easiest option in a world of 1) demanding work schedules 2) the deliberate withdrawal/refusal of the state to provide high quality/low cost services like daycare or after school care. This results in expensive, privatized service being the only thing on offer.

      Is this, in a sense, the disease of neoliberalism spreading itself, creating new markets to commodify childcare, and the 10% are unaware disease vectors spreading the plague?

      Per my comments above, if you’ve got at least 2 kids, you have enough economies of scale where a nanny looks like a lower cost option than formalized daycare and after school care.

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        Oh of course. In fact for awhile my brother and I had a hired caregiver or nanny while my mother worked.

        Guess I was referring more to the ten percenters like Amber Heard–our aspirational aristocrats.

        Reply
  5. DJG

    Glad to see this post. We have to talk about immigration as a class issue, and which classes benefit. And suddenly we discover millions of nannies in a country where no one is paying required taxes for a nanny. So this is an attraction–the fairly well paid nanny in a gray world.

    And don’t forget the anecdote about Chicago: Why don’t we have widespread immigration raids here? Too may Poles and Irish would be netted.

    The second part of the immigration issue is also a class issue: The same social class benefits most from endless war–note the insane illogical of that “law-abiding” D.C. bourgeoise (“whats the point they are undoc)”–and the endless wars produce population dislocation, refugees, economic collapse, migrants, and a desire to immigrate from countries that no longer have a viable government because of U.S. meddling.

    Yet, as we all know, “those people” are here to steal our jobs. Maybe, instead, those people are here because of the effects of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments.

    Reply
  6. JerryDenim

    Ha. Amber Heard. I believe she is the same Amber Heard that failed to slip her dogs past Australian customs officials after giving them a ride in a private jet. Seems like there is some kind of pattern at work here….

    Reply
  7. clarky90

    “A woman has come forward with details of an unsettling interview she claims she had after applying to be Harvey Weinstein’s nanny. “He opened the door wearing only boxer shorts and an undershirt,” Sarah Anne Massie told Inside Edition. “I obviously thought it was strange.” She says it happened at Weinstein’s mansion in Connecticut when she was just a teenager. “I just tried to continue to conduct myself professionally and just look at his face and answer his questions,” she recalled.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2r57J3hYoVM

    She didn’t get the job.

    Reply
  8. Darthbobber

    “the stereotype that illegals command a lower wage was not true in my limited anecdotal nanny search journey. She was getting $15 PT and wanted me to basically match it. I have not hired anyone yet but my final two are citizens who said yes to my rates advertised.”

    Person fails (conveniently) to understand the point at which the depressing effect on wages and benefits occurs. Where that takes place, it affects ALL workers in the field, not just the “illegal” ones. (ie, in a tighter market, the “rates advertised” would need to come up significantly to get any takers.)

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith

      I pay $27.50 an hour for my cleaning woman. And the only living being she has to worry about is my cat, and I don’t mean feeding him or cleaning his box, just not doing stuff like opening window so wide that he might get out.

      Reply
  9. Katniss Everdeen

    Dunno about this conflation of “maids and housekeepers” with “nannies.” It’s one thing to entrust your dirty toilet to an undocumented, minimal-English speaking immigrant, and an entirely different thing to entrust your child to one, the benefit of learning to speak “non-white” Spanish notwithstanding. Which is not to say that some don’t hire a “nanny” and intend to get a housekeeper / cook in the bargain at no extra cost.

    As a single mom working erratic hours including weekends, I hired a live-in nanny who was with me for 11 years. She was american born and bred. I paid her “under the table,” and, in the early years, after I paid rent and utilities and bought groceries, she often had more “disposable income” for the month than I did. I couldn’t have lived without her. And we moved up together.

    I get the point you’re trying to make about the exploitation of the undocumented in providing cheap domestic utility for those who could afford to pay more, but I’d stick to the “maids and housekeepers” angle. The “nanny” thing gets a little more complicated. Being a nanny is more than just any warm, cheap body. At least for me it was.

    Just sayin’.

    Reply
    1. ScottB

      Agreed. “Maids and housekeepers” in the official bureaucratic language (Bureau of Labor Statistics) largely refers to those who work in the hotel/motel industry keeping rooms clean.

      Reply
  10. Altandmain

    One of they key takeaways from this piece I got was that illegal immigration can worsen inequality. The upper middle class is hiring nannies that may be “illegal immigrants” to save money.

    It does depress wages for the bottom 90 percent and only the top 10 percent, what conservatives call the “Liberal elite”. I’m forced to acknowledge that there is some truth behind it. Liberals see their status, credentials, and education as a source of moral superiority in a way quite similar to how the Conservatives see the very rich.

    If the conservatives were serious about getting rid of illegal immigration, they would:

    1. Demand that the rich and the upper middle class be held accountable for paying illegal immigrants under the table. Serious penalties for the upper 10 percent who hire nannies like this. No slap on the wrist. I propose a penalty that is a percent of total income and wealth, which is what some nations in Europe do for speeding tickets. If the professional Liberal class resists, it would make it easy for them to assert they have betrayed the working class. Make it expensive for the 10 percent to hire nannies.

    2. Support publicly funded childcare, like what is available in nations like France, the Nordic nations, and to an extent, the Canadian province of Québec. This would ensure that all families got childcare, not just the well off. This would mean folks would not need nannies to begin with.

    3. Demand that CEOs, the Board of Directors, and other high ranking corporate types get held accountable for corporations that hire them.

    4. Penalize shareholders who hold stock in the company. An example might be a penalty on capital gains taxes and to make all capital losses not tax deductible.

    5. Insist on E-Verify everywhere. Make improvements to the system to ensure that it works as intended and pay taxes for it.

    6. Insist on less wars and coups abroad. (Although to be fair, Paleo-Conservatives have done precisely this, so credit is due there).

    7. Insist on a Canadian style immigration policy. Left wing people in the US tend to hold Canada on a pedestal, so it would make it hard to resist.

    8. Fight for better work life balance and higher wages for the bottom 90 percent. Another option, Which I personally like is the Dutch model of one person in a married family with children working part-time. This would alos need the social safety net the Netherlands has to work.

    Ultimately they don’t because Conservatives look at the poor with contempt. They may be xenophobic, but they also do not wish to help the poor in their own nation.

    The other big issue is the Liberal class. One of the big issues that Thomas Frank raised was that the Liberal elite in the upper 10 percent has betrayed the New Deal. By failing to address the economic grievances of the working class, they are going to ensure that there will be many more Trumps to come.

    Reply
  11. rps

    Unauthorized, undocumented, illegal, alien or however one labels migrants entering a country without legal permission is nothing more than a political game of distraction for the masses provided by both the republicans and democrats. Trump keeps his base happy as he fights the fight and the outraged democrat opposition rallies to the defense of the undocumented migrants without the political will or intent to follow through beyond rallying their base to ‘the cause.’

    The truth is federal, state and local government coffers are increasingly reliant on the revenue from unauthorized workers who pay taxes (sales, local, municipal, etc) as well as social security too via purchasing fake social security ID’s. According to SSA: While unauthorized immigrants worked and contributed as much as $13 billion in payroll taxes to the OASDI program in 2010, only about $1 billion in benefit payments during 2010 are attributable to unauthorized work. Thus, we estimate that earnings by unauthorized immigrants result in a net positive effect on Social Security financial status generally, and that this effect contributed roughly $12 billion to the cash flow of the program for 2010. We estimate that future years will experience a continuation of this positive impact on the trust funds.”
    The upshot- they’ll never collect benefits from OASDI.

    According to the Atlantic Monthly, for the past 20 years, the IRS has been on board making it easier for people without SSN’s or fake ones to pay taxes with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). In 2010, about 3 million people paid over $870 million in income taxes using an ITIN, and according to the IRS, ITIN filers pay $9 billion in payroll taxes annually.

    Its a win-win across the board for employers, and more so, state and federal government coffers reliant upon the current system of undocumented (wink wink) fake SSN taxpaying workers. There’s no political will to change the system flushed with cash from undocumented migrants who’ll not see a dime of it…

    Reply
  12. Shane Simonsen

    How hard would it be for someone to pose as an under the table/undocumented/illegal nanny, respond to ads posted by the wealthy and record the proceedings to put together a nice expose article on this particular cultural practice of the elites?

    Reply
    1. JohnnyGL

      About as easy as it would be for ICE agents to pose as illegal/undocumented/unauthorized nannies, solicit work from the wealthy, then arrest them for attempting to commit tax fraud once they agreed to pay under the table. Or maybe work for a week or so and get them to actually engage in the tax fraud?

      Reply
    2. bronco

      About as hard as it would be for a cop to sit outside a bar at closing time and fill a months quota of drunk drivers in 15 minutes.

      Reply
  13. marym

    From the post:

    From Pew Research: “Six states account for 59% of unauthorized immigrants: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.”

    Also from Pew Research from the same timeframe (2014) :

    20 metro areas are home to six-in-ten unauthorized immigrants in U.S.

    Elsewhere arguments that illegal immigration is why people don’t have better jobs/wages would seem to be false.

    Reply
  14. Jen

    Lambert, I know you keyed in on the “ownership” concept in “Why I Hired a Nanny.” This quote on the reason why the author went with a service really cemented his attitude towards the help:

    “The service maintains a large panel of pre-vetted candidates who the director has interviewed extensively. All nannies have undergone a comprehensive background check, employment verification, reference check, and (presumably) a flea and tick check.

    Vile. Absolutely vile.

    Reply
  15. Rod

    The History Of The Flores Settlement And Its Effects On Immigration
    NPR.org
    June 22 All Things Considered.
    From the Lawyers lips.
    It’s got it all–Hollywood power/ illegally employed undocumented domestic worker/ detained child.

    Reply
  16. Old Hickory

    Typo end of first para: “antidotes.” Or maybe this whole topic is such a downer you were dreaming about pictures of plants or kittens ….

    Reply
  17. Nanny Roulette

    I have first hand knowledge of this underground market. I work in labor enforcement collecting wages due and the penalty assessment.

    The story did not include an equally large “illegal” nanny market – taking care of dear old mom and dad as they begin to fail, but remain in their home. This employment repeats the pattern in that the nanny is simply helping around the house a few hours a week, as the folks fail the hours increase. Eventually, the nanny becomes “one of the family” and ultimately, begins living in a guestroom. The last parent passes away and the nanny files a wage claim for failure to pay minimum wage and overtime. Most the nannies staying at the house – although they may not be technically working – are on the clock. This means their salary is divided by hours sleeping – hence, failure to pay minimum wage. The “member of the family” has a wage claim for several hundred thousand dollars. The kids, thinking they will sell mom’s house, have already bought their new car in anticipation of a financial windfall that will never be realized.

    In the end, we file a judgement, lien the house and the estate for the wages and penalties. I have had instances – usually by sophisticated defendants that readily realize their circumstances – in which they offer the house and the contents, sans a handful of negotiated heirlooms, to settle the claim.

    Once we have extracted the pound of fresh for exploitation of the nanny we report them to the state tax agency to get the payroll taxes.

    There are nannies looking for these opportunities.

    Reply
  18. Eclair

    Back in the 70’s, when my kids were babies, I hired a ‘babysitter,’ a local woman with older kids who wanted (probably, ‘needed,’ some extra money). This was so I could work at my miserably-paid part-time job, that bolstered my self-esteem, but not my wallet. I paid her minimum wage, one week paid vacation, plus the full share of payroll taxes, which I reported faithfully, because I live in mortal fear of the IRS.

    My husband’s boss at the time (who later went on to become head of a highly prestigious family charitable foundation) and his non-working but socially impeccable wife, had a series of ‘au pairs,’ young British women, who received room and board and a chance to perfect their American English in exchange for their child-watching (they had five offspring, as I recall) and ‘light’ housekeeping (which I always imagined as fluffing the pillows on the living room couches and arranging the fresh flowers.)

    ‘Nannies’ existed only in novels of the English upper classes, or tales of the Royal Family.

    My daughter’s experience differed. She had a full-time corporate job, lived in a large metropolitan area, and hired a ‘nanny’ before the birth of her first child. When I gave her the information on filing payroll taxes, she patted me on the head and informed me that ‘everyone’ paid their nannies in cash. Some were ‘legal,’ most were here on expired tourist or student visas, from countries in South America, the Caribbean, or Eastern Europe. One had impeccable references from a local judge.

    Looking back at the nannies my daughter and her friends hired over the years, there is one quality that seems to predominate. It’s an indefinable subservience; an ability to make the employer feel that they and their children are the most important thing in the life of the nanny. The nanny has no problem with working late, arriving early, doing the laundry, picking up the messes; she has no ‘life.’ The ‘unsuccessful’ nannies were the ones with an ‘attitude’ and a life outside their job. One had the temerity to become pregnant (and besides, she preferred the expensive loose tea over the Lipton tea bags that were purchased especially for nannies) and another (an eastern European with a degree in pharmacy) gave everyone the idea she felt socially equal to them.

    With kids in high school and college, my daughter and son-in-law work even longer hours for their corporate masters. Now they are on call 24/7, even on vacations, which, most European standards, are pitiful. They are the 9.9%; the part of our society that has been brainwashed into accepting their thralldom to corporations. We give you cash, you give us your lives.

    Reply
  19. Jay Treaty III

    [4] Perhaps should be more civil, and instead of calling these lawbreaking employers “illegals,” I should call them “optionals.”

    How about “undocumenting immi-grantors”?

    Reply
  20. ChiGal in Carolina

    Good question! And what exactly is the income or wealth of those at the 90% mark, the 80% mark, etc.

    Hard to discuss intelligently without this context.

    Reply
  21. cyclist

    I grew up in an upstate NY county where I had never heard of anyone having a nanny. Wound up in an (increasingly) affluent and stratified NYC suburb about 25 years ago where I first encountered the concept. At that time, it seemed that the desirable nannies were Irish or Scandinavian; I had no idea what their legal status was, but it appeared to be some sort of work in the US temporarily scheme. Sitting in the town bar, I still recall overhearing a shot drinking, chain smoking, broadly accented Irish lass: “You’d never believe what that fooking B-ch had me do today…..”, followed by a litany of complaints about having to drive some enormous vehicle around to pick up things, etc. Great fun.

    Now it appears the nannies are mostly from the Caribbean or Latin America. Nothing having to do with actual physical objects would ever get done here without these folks….

    Reply
  22. Tomonthebeach

    Aside from Nannies for the idle rich, let us not forget Stewart’s 9.9% and their domestics.

    What percent of that group have visa-less housekeepers who clean their floors, swab their toidies, and even mow their lawns? In DC, both sides of the aisle are up to their wallets in domestics whose status with CIS is unknown. I have concluded that: “Those who do not clean their own toilet have lost their link with humanity.”

    Reply
  23. 4corners

    It’s worth considering how many of these nannies have their own children, and that the time they spend nuturing others’ children is at the expense of the their own. This applies more broadly to any lower-income household where parents may be “hard-working” but also absent. Sure, there might be food on the table but are those kids getting help with homework? And what does that mean for their prospects?

    Reply
  24. beans

    It’s threads like these that make me want to rip my hair out. I’ve hired “nanny” babysitters. They requested a pay rate that I met. In most cases, it was somewhere around $15 an hour. They were happy. I was happy. My kids were happy. There are bigger battles to fight – this is just a big fat distraction from things of far greater consequence.

    Reply

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