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Private household workers clean homes, care for children, plan and cook meals, do laundry, administer the household, and perform numerous other duties. They 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 part time 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 may 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 put them to sleep and waken them, 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. They may also perform the duties of a general housekeeper, including general cleaning and laundry duties. 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 Handbook.)
Those who assist elderly, handicapped, or convalescent people are called companions or personal attendants. Depending on the employer's 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 workers usually work in pleasant and comfortable homes or apartments. Most are dayworkers 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 done alone.
Housekeeping is hard work. Both dayworkers 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.
Private household workers held about 808,000 jobs in 1994. Over 60 percent were general houseworkers, mostly dayworkers; 35 percent were child-care workers, including baby-sitters; less than 5 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.
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 most important.
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 postsecondary 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 able to work well with others and be honest, discreet, dependable, courteous, and neat. They also need physical stamina.
There are very few opportunities for advancement within this occupation. Few large households exist with big staffs where general houseworkers can advance to cook, executive housekeeper, butler, or governess, 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 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 persistand possibly worsenthrough 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. 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, preschool teachers and child-care workers, and homemaker-home health aides elsewhere in the Handbook.)
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 and suited for this work should have no trouble finding and keeping jobs.
Earnings of private household workers depend on the type of work, the number of hours, household and staff size, geographic location, training, and experience.
Most private household workers are employed 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-$4.25 an hour-in some rural areas (some domestic workers are not covered by minimum wage laws). In addition, dayworkers often get carfare and a free meal. Live-in domestics usually earn more than dayworkers and also get free room and board. However, they often work longer hours. Baby-sitters usually have the lowest earnings.
In 1994, median earnings for full-time private household workers were about $180 a week. Some full-time live-in housekeepers, cooks, butlers, nannies, and governesses earn considerably more. Based on limited information, experienced workers employed by wealthy families in major metropolitan areas may earn $800 to $1,000 a week. Private household workers who live with their employers may be given room and board, medical benefits, a car, vacation days, and education benefits. However, most private household workers receive very limited or no benefits.
Other workers with similar duties are building custodians, hotel and restaurant cleaners, child-care workers in daycare centers, home-health aides, cooks, kitchen workers, waiters and waitresses, and bartenders.
Information about job opportunities for private household workers is available from local private employment agencies and State employment service offices.
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