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NYT Mag's Adam Davidson Hails 'Trophy Nanny' as 1% Status Symbol

The 1% Whisperer strikes again, this time with a clueless view of domestic workers.

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The offensive part of this article is the way Davidson thinks about the nanny equation. He clearly wants to believe the pricing is somewhat efficient (those rich people must be getting something for their money!). For instance, he speaks to an academic who says there are no studies on how nannies impact child development, but at the close suggests the market works because a graduate student working with the same academic gets merely what an ordinary Park Slope nanny fetches. Why is that OK? Oh, she’s fussy about what families she is willing to work for and sets boundaries on her hours. Wage slaves take note, look at the huge hit in pay that Davidson deems to be justified for daring to bargain over your work conditions.

Yet earlier on, Davidson was forced to acknowledge that the pricing is actually arbitrary. What makes for a good nanny? Who knows? But the reference points he uses for “price is unrelated to quality” are wine, vitamins, and car tuneups. A better comparison would be doctors, given both their importance to most people versus the average patient’s inability to judge their skill level or the appropriateness of their recommendations (even good professionals have bad days). Patients instead rely on proxies, such as bedside manner and too often in America, willingness to run lots of tests.

The other point Davidson ignores completely is that nannies, even nannies to the rich, are exploited. That’s less likely in the status-neurotic types who are desperate to find a French speaking nanny who can also curate their art collection, but it is nevertheless widespread. Consider this example that we linked to earlier:

"A criminal complaint filed this week against a wealthy New York woman alleges that she kept an undocumented immigrant as a house worker for years, paying her just 85 cents an hour for nearly constant labor, and making her sleep in a walk-in closet.

The immigrant, identified only as “V.M.” in documents filed by prosecutors, was reportedly promised $1,000 a month to come live with Annie George at her vast estate in New York. The woman came from Kerala, a state in India, only to discover that her job at the 30,000 square foot Llenroc mansion was one of servitude, with 17-hour days seven days a week, with no days off even when she was sick.

She cleaned the mansion from top to bottom, cooked for the family and watched over George’s five children for approximately 67 months before the National Human Trafficking Resource Center received a tip about the woman’s working conditions. Federal agents swooped in to her rescue last year, and now George, 39, is facing a criminal prosecution."

For every V.M., there are probably 100 cases that fall short of slavery (yes, Virginia, rich people keeping servants incarcerated have been charged and convicted of slavery, see Sante Kimes as one example) but are nevertheless abusive by virtue of inadequate pay for incessant work. And mundane exploitation is pervasive. Per an article in Slate:

“Overtime violations are rampant,” says Nicole Hallett, one of several attorneys who staff the Urban Justice Center’s free, monthly legal clinic. Hallett notes the problem is worst among live-in employees, who make up 30 percent of the domestic workforce. “I have yet to see a live-in worker who’s being paid overtime at the correct rate.”

Davidson unwittingly provided evidence: when Muneton first came to the US, in 2002, she worked for a rich family for $100 a week. The minimum wage then was $5.15 an hour. Even if she was working only 40 hours a week, she was grossly underpaid. And remember, meager wages aren’t the only indignity of being “help”. You are a member of the family in a bad way, subject to all its neuroses and foibles, but if you try asserting any boundaries, odds are high that you will be fired, pronto, and never again allowed to see the children to which you’ve become attached.