CORONAVIRUS

Study Shows COVID-19's Devastating Impact On Black Immigrant Domestic Workers

The coronavirus pandemic, combined with systemic racism, leaves house cleaners, nannies and other home care workers especially vulnerable.

Black immigrant domestic workers are triply impacted by the coronavirus crisis: the illness itself, the related economic fallout and systemic racism, a new survey shows. 

The survey of 800 Black immigrant house cleaners, nannies and home care workers in Massachusetts, New York City and Miami found that 70% had either lost their jobs or had their hours or pay cut since COVID-19 hit hard in March. It also found that 25% of the domestic workers had experienced or lived with someone with COVID-19 symptoms. 

The survey, released Tuesday, was conducted from May 19 to June 6 by the National Domestic Workers Alliance and the Institute for Policy Studies. Just over half of the workers surveyed said they did not have medical insurance, and nearly half said they were afraid of seeking government assistance due to their immigration status. 

“Black immigrant domestic workers are at the epicenter of three converging storms — the pandemic, the resulting economic depression and structural racism,” a report summarizing the findings said. 

Lydia (who withheld her last name because she is undocumented), a home care worker in the Boston area, has been unemployed for two months since she was let go in mid-April due to the pandemic. The mother of three cared for an 80-year-old client from Monday through Friday, but was told by the client’s spouse to stop coming because the government was warning of a COVID-19 surge. She was given no advance notice and has no access to unemployment benefits. 

“I’m not sure if my previous clients will call me back, and looking for work is not as easy right now,” Lydia said on a call with reporters after the report was released. Her husband contracted the virus a few weeks ago and couldn’t go to work. Now they’ve fallen behind on bills. “People don’t want me in their house for fear of me bringing the virus.” 

Lydia is one of millions of undocumented workers who’ve been hard hit by the virus and related financial hardship and who, due to their immigration status, are not eligible for unemployment benefits and were excluded from the federal government’s $1,200 stimulus checks. 

The study also comes out amid nationwide protests calling out systemic racism. Black people are among the groups hardest hit by the virus and its economic toll. 

Data on the race and ethnicity of COVID-19 patients is still emerging, but a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study in April showed Black people were being hospitalized at a higher rate than whites. And in New York City, which released its own preliminary data in April, COVID-19 was killing Black and Latinx people at twice the rate of white people. 

Black people have also been harder hit by pandemic-related job losses. A Pew Research survey conducted in April found 61% of Latinx people and 44% of Black people said they or someone in their household had experienced job or wage losses, compared with 38% of white people. 

Black workers are also less likely to be able to work from home — where they would be able to better prevent getting infected from the virus. For white workers, 30% had the option to work from home, compared with 16% of Latinx workers and 20% percent of Black workers, according to the Economic Policy Institute. Domestic workers in particular have to be in others’ homes, increasing their risk of coronavirus exposure. 

The United States leads the world in coronavirus infections and deaths, with over 2.1 million confirmed cases and more than 117,000 dead. While most states have been gradually reopening businesses and activities in recent weeks, some places — like New York City, once the epicenter of the virus — have seen their number of cases plummet, while others — including Florida, which was early to lift stay-home orders — hitting record daily increases in coronavirus cases this week. 

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