Private Household Workers Career Information
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Significant Points- Demand will far outstrip the supply of workers willing to
provide private household services because the work is hard, low paying, with
few benefits and advancement opportunities.
- Persons who are interested in and suited for this work should have no trouble finding and keeping jobs.
Nature of the WorkPrivate household workers clean homes, care for children, plan
and cook meals, do laundry, administer the household, and perform numerous other
duties. Private household workers are employed by many types of
households of various income levels. Although wealthy families may employ a
large staff, it is much more common for one worker to be employed in a household
where both parents work. Many workers are employed in households having one
parent. A number of household workers work for two or more employers.
Most household workers are general houseworkers and usually the only worker employed in the home. They dust and polish furniture; sweep, mop, and wax floors; vacuum; and clean ovens, refrigerators, and
bathrooms. They also wash dishes, polish silver, and change and make beds. Some wash, fold, and iron clothes. A few wash windows. Other duties may include looking after a child or an elderly person, cooking, feeding pets, answering the telephone and doorbell, and calling and waiting for repair workers. General houseworkers may also take clothes and laundry to the cleaners, buy groceries, and do other errands.
Household workers whose primary responsibility is taking care of children are called child-care workers. Those employed on an hourly basis are usually called baby-sitters. Child-care workers bathe, dress, and feed children; supervise their play, wash their clothes, and clean their rooms. They may also waken them and put them to sleep, read to them, involve them in educational games, take them for doctors' visits, and discipline them. Those who are in charge of infants, sometimes called infant nurses, also prepare bottles and change diapers.
Nannies generally take care of children from birth to age 10 or 12, tending to the child's early education, nutrition, health, and other needs. Governesses look after children in addition to other household duties. They may help them with schoolwork, teach them a foreign language, and guide them in their general upbringing. (Child-care workers who work outside the child's home are covered in the statement on child-care workers elsewhere in the program.)
Those who assist elderly, handicapped, or convalescent people are called companions or personal attendants. Depending on the employers' needs, a companion or attendant might help with bathing and dressing, preparing and serving meals, and keeping the house tidy. They also may read to their employers, write letters for them, play cards or games, and go with them on walks and outings. Companions may also accompany their employers to medical appointments and handle their social and business affairs.
Households with a large staff may include a housekeeper or a butler, a cook, a caretaker, and a launderer. Housekeepers and butlers hire, supervise, and coordinate the household staff to keep the household running smoothly. Butlers also receive and announce guests, answer telephones, deliver messages, serve food and drinks, chauffeur, or act as a personal attendant. Cooks plan and prepare meals, clean the kitchen, order groceries and supplies, and may also serve meals. Caretakers do heavy housework and general home maintenance. They wash windows, wax floors, and hang draperies. They maintain heating and other equipment and do light carpentry, painting, and odd jobs. They may also mow the lawn and do some gardening if the household does not have a gardener.
Private household child-care workers are often employed only while children are young.
Working ConditionsPrivate household workers usually work in pleasant and comfortable
homes or apartments. Most are day workers who live
in their own homes and travel to work. Some live in the home of their employer,
generally with their own room and bath. Live-ins usually work longer hours.
However, if they work evenings or weekends, they may get other time off. Living
in may isolate them from family and friends. On the other hand, they often
become part of their employer's family and may derive satisfaction from caring
for them. Being a general houseworker can also be isolating, since work is usually
Housekeeping is hard work. Both day workers and live-ins are on their feet most of the day and do much walking, lifting, bending, stooping, and reaching. In addition, some employers may be very demanding.
EmploymentPrivate household workers held about 802,000 jobs in 2009. More than half were general houseworkers, mostly day workers. About 40 percent were child-care workers, including baby-sitters. About 4 percent were housekeepers, butlers, cooks, and launderers. Most jobs are in big cities and their affluent suburbs. Some are on large estates or in resorts away from cities.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.Private household workers generally do not need any special
training. Individuals who cannot find other work because
of limited language or other skills often turn to this work. Most jobs require
the ability to clean well, cook, or take care of children. These skills are
generally learned by young people while helping with housework at home. Some
training takes place on the job. Employers show the household workers what
they want done and how. For child-care workers and companions, general education,
background, and ability to get along with the person they will care for are
Home economics courses in high schools and vocational and adult education schools offer training in cooking and child care. Courses in child development, first aid, and nursing in post secondary schools are also useful.
Special schools for butlers, nannies, and governesses teach household administration, early childhood education, nutrition, child care, and bookkeeping.
Private household workers must be honest, discreet, dependable, courteous, and neat. They need physical stamina.
Opportunities for advancement within this occupation are very limited. There are very few large households with big staffs where general houseworkers can advance to cook, executive housekeeper, or butler, and these jobs may require specialized training. Advancement usually consists of better pay and working conditions. Workers may move to similar jobs in hotels, hospitals, and restaurants, where the pay and fringe benefits are usually better. Others transfer into better paying unrelated jobs.
Job OutlookJob opportunities for people wishing to become private household
workers are expected to be excellent through 2005, as the demand for these services
continues to far outpace the supply of workers willing to provide them.
For many years, demand for household help has outstripped the supply of workers willing to take domestic jobs. The imbalance is expected to persist and possibly worsen through the year 2005. Demand is expected to grow as more women join the labor force and need help running their households. Demand for companions and personal attendants is also expected to rise due to projected rapid growth in the elderly population.
The supply situation is not likely to improve. Unattractiveness of the work, low status, low pay, lack of fringe benefits, and limited advancement potential deter many prospective household workers. In addition, demographic factors will continue to aggravate the supply situation. Teenagers and young adults, the age group from which many child-care workers and baby-sitters come, will rebound in absolute terms, but continue to slip further as a share of the workforce.
Due to the limited supply of household workers, many employers have turned to domestic cleaning firms, child-care centers, and temporary help firms to meet their needs for household help. This trend is
expected to continue. (See the statements on janitors and cleaners, child-care workers, and homemaker-home health aides elsewhere in the program.)
Although employment of private household workers is expected to decline through 2005, many jobs will be available because of the need to replace the large number of workers who leave these occupations every year. Persons who are interested in this work and suited for it should have no trouble finding and keeping jobs.
EarningsEarnings of private household workers depend on the type of work, the number of hours, household and staff size, geographic location, training, and experience.
Nearly 2 out of 3 private household workers work part time, or less than 35 hours a week. Some work only 2 or 3 days a week, while others may work half a day 4 or 5 days a week. Earnings vary from about $10 an hour or more in a big city to less than the Federal minimum wage in some rural areas (some domestic workers are not covered by minimum wage laws). Those covered by the Federal minimum wage receive $5.15 an hour. In addition, day workers often get carfare and a free meal. Live-in domestics usually earn more than day workers and also get free room and board. However, they often work longer hours. Baby-sitters usually have the lowest earnings.
In 2009, median earnings for full-time private household workers were about $179 a week. The median for cleaners was about $191 and for child-care workers, about $154 a week.
Some full-time live-in housekeepers or butlers, nannies, and governesses earn much higher wages than these. In New York City, for example, an experienced cook may earn up to $900 a week. Trained nannies start at $300-$375 per week, and with experience may earn up to $800 per week. A major domo, or senior butler, who runs a large household and supervises a staff of six people or more can expect to start at $20,000 and with experience earn over $35,000 per year. Private household workers who live with their employers may be given room and board, medical benefits, a car, vacation days, and other benefits. However, most private household workers receive very limited or no benefits.
Related OccupationsOther workers with similar duties are building custodians,
hotel and restaurant cleaners, child-care workers in day care centers, home
health aides, cooks, kitchen workers, waiters and waitresses, and bartenders.
Sources of Additional Information Information about job opportunities for private household
workers is available from local private employment agencies and State employment