June 16, 2020 / 10:43 PM / 23 days ago

U.S. black domestic workers fear losing homes after losing jobs

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Most black immigrant domestic workers in the United States fear losing their homes or having utilities shut off in the next three months, research said on Tuesday, as the impact of massive job losses in the pandemic sweeps through the economy.

More than two-thirds have lost their jobs or seen their hours cut, said a survey of 811 black immigrant workers in Florida, New York and Massachusetts.

U.S. jobless claims hit a record 6.867 million in late March. Although they have declined since, the claims are more than double their peak during the 2007-09 Great Recession.

Almost two-thirds of the workers surveyed said they feared being evicted or having their utilities turned off for nonpayment of rent or bills in the next three months, said the survey by the Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank, and the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance (NDWA) advocacy group.

Leydis Munoz, who moved to New York City from Panama, was looking for a new job when the pandemic hit.

“If we don’t work, we don’t get paid,” she said on a conference call hosted by the NDWA. “If we don’t get paid, we don’t eat.”

“We are using our savings,” said Munoz, the mother of two young boys.

About 2.2 million people are domestic workers in the United States, many informally employed as cleaners, nannies and home carers, ineligible for jobless benefits or sick pay, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) think-tank.

As authorities ordered people to stay at home and practice social distancing to combat the coronavirus, many employers have told their domestic workers not to come to work.

“We always knew that there were massive social safety net issues impacting black immigrant domestic workers, and the covid crisis just ripped them completely open,” said Marc Bayard, director of the Institute’s Black Worker Initiative.

“They ... fall in between so many cracks.”

Black communities have been hit hard by the coronavirus, where people are more likely to do low-paid, essential jobs that cannot be done remotely, data in New York City has shown.

Due to inequalities in access to healthcare, they are also more likely to have underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, that make them more vulnerable to falling seriously ill from COVID-19, experts say.

Huge protests across the United States and globally in recent weeks have sparked debates about how to fix racial inequality.

The survey, taken between May 19 and June 6, was published on International Domestic Workers Day, marking a convention by the United Nations’ International Labour Organization that implemented standards for cleaners, carers and others working in homes.

The ILO said around the world 55 million domestic workers - mostly women - were at risk of losing their income due to lockdowns.

Reporting by Christine Murray; Additional reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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