Nannies, caregivers, housekeepers at League of Women Voters meeting

Attended my first League of Women Voters meeting last night, at the library. Was welcomed, encouraged to join up. Took a seat up front, 2nd row, looked about me and saw maybe 35 people, including one other man, he seated with a woman maybe his wife.

Speakers hit on domestic workers’ plight. These do scut work so other work can be done: home care to the disabled and otherwise incompetent, watching children, housekeeping. Our age of the working woman means outside the home. In come the free-lance domestic, or household, workers, to fill the gap.

They aren’t unionized and not about to be so. Not enough money involved. Union dues? Forget it. Some or many struggle to keep their own bodies and souls together while changing bed clothes and nannying and scrubbing floors for “working women,” many for $2 or more under minimum wage. Food runs out in their own households, bills are paid late, money is a constant problem. They seek protection by state law. Bills are pending.

Their stories have a Dickensian ring. It’s upstairs-downstairs Downton Abbey stuff. They need more money, vacation time and the like, what other workers have, including agency and government-paid domestic workers. None is there for them. They float above the everyday big issues.

However: Many who hire them cannot pay more. The woman from the Chicago Coalition of Household Workers, an immigrant from the Philippines who did this kind of work, sending dollars back home to support her four adopted children, spoke of “rich people” who can pay more. A woman from the audience asked, what about the non-rich who cannot?

Another woman bewailed the low wages as if demonstrating lack of concern for their own children — a you-get-what-you-pay-for situation. But the chair woman of the evening corrected her, reiterating the problem of slim finances by the hiring family and their inability to pay more. She also bemoaned as “atrocious and an abomination” that the U.S. is the world’s “only industrialized country” that does not governmentally pay for domestic workers.

The Coalition woman also bemoaned the expenditures for war around the globe — a familiar refrain which undercut her eloquent earlier description of her own experience caring for a husband and wife, he demented, she bed-ridden, on abovementioned low wages.

The inability to pay more for these workers, as mentioned above, is surely a question of our faltering economy. Like a hundred other socio-economic problems, money shortage is at its heart. A focus on specific problems like what the League members heard about last night is important. But there’s nothing like a booming economy to solve it, at least partially.

So we come back to the whole economic issue, what human nature calls for and what will work. The country — far less than Europe, as we know — is hooked on state activity, not on freedom. We look to “holy mother the state” for help, as Dorothy Day put it. Patch it up, here, there, everywhere, like many boys with fingers in dike. Instead, there is the free-market solution, an overall approach. Yes.

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