Laying Off the Nanny in Hard Times

Domestic workers have become the latest victims of the recession.

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"Marlene has been a member of our family for the past 19 months," reads an urgent Craigslist posting from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I was recently laid off so we are looking for a new family for her." With the number of jobless claims jumping by 58,000 to a 26-year high of 573,000, according to Labor Department reports today, an increasing number of families are reining in spending by laying off the household help. It's a tough choice to make, especially if the nanny has become an integral member of the family. But the decision is also difficult for families who have to adjust their lifestyles; parents may not be used to doing their own dishes, shopping for groceries, or picking up the children from school.

From the Wall Street Journal: "The luxury of household help, often in the form of immigrant labor, blossomed with the thriving economy. Some nannies came to oversee entire households. Now, the dive in the value of stock portfolios and real estate has caused even prosperous families to review their finances and make new plans. People unaccustomed to doing their own housework are dealing with dirty laundry and mowing their own lawns.

Dual-career couples got used to the help, which relieved them of mundane tasks and enabled them to maintain fast-paced lives. As the economy boomed, stay-at-home mothers and middle-class families in cities and suburbs across the U.S. also discovered the convenience of having nannies and other domestic servants. Homeowners cast off their shovels and garden hoses. Baby-sitting and car-washing were no longer chores for teenagers eager to earn pocket money."

And from the The New York Times: "Given that the connection between domestic workers and their employers is often more intimate than other working relationships, when it is threatened by economic downturn, feelings on both sides run high. For employers, who form attachments to the people they entrust with their children and their homes, terminating or even scaling back the relationship can feel like betraying a family member. For workers—particularly those who are being paid off the books and have little or no legal protection or financial buffer—there is much more at stake."