The vast majority of people who care for children, the elderly and disabled in wealthy places like the United States come from developing countries. It’s work that some say falls into the “3-D” category (dirty, difficult and demeaning). Immigrants who do these jobs are typically paid poorly and offered few basic workplace protections. It’s a trend that’s also creating care gaps in the families and societies these workers leave behind. We look at both ends of what’s known as the “global care chain.”


  • Michael Clemens Senior fellow, Center for Global Development
  • Sonya Michel Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Professor of History, University of Maryland
  • Manuel Orozco Director, Remittances and Development Program, Inter-American Dialogue


  • 13:06:40

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world.

  • 13:06:59

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe need for care workers and domestic help is exploding here in the U.S. and in other wealthy countries, including here in our region. They are the nannies, housecleaners and those caring for the elderly. Even in tough economic times, these are jobs few native-born workers seem willing to take on. Most of the people who do this work are immigrants from developing countries. And with few workplace protections, they're vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Many leave not only their own families behind, but also a gap in care workers in their home societies. It's what's known as the global care chain.

  • 13:07:37

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to talk about it is Sonya Michel, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She's also a professor of history at the University of Maryland. Sonya Michel, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:07:49

    MS. SONYA MICHELMy pleasure. Thanks for having me.

  • 13:07:50

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Manuel Orozco. He is the director for the Remittances and Development Program at Inter-American Dialog, a center that looks at policy, exchange and communication in Western Hemisphere affairs. Manuel, good to see you again.

  • 13:08:06

    MR. MANUEL OROZCOThank you.

  • 13:08:06

    NNAMDIAlso with us in studio is Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Michael Clemens, welcome.

  • 13:08:13

    MR. MICHAEL CLEMENSThank you very much.

  • 13:08:14

    NNAMDIAnd you, too, are welcome to join this conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you have any help at home from someone from another country, a nanny, an elder-care companion, a housecleaner? Do you provide health insurance? Do you pay overtime, 40-hour weeks? Call us to share your experience, 800-433-8850. Or send an email to Sonya Michel, domestic workers leaving their home countries for better opportunities elsewhere is not a new story. You have mentioned the young Irish women who came here in large numbers through the 19th and especially the first half of the 20th centuries. What's different about workers today?

  • 13:08:57

    MICHELWhat's different is that the ones who came in the 19th and early 20th century were generally young, single women who left families of origin behind, but didn't have spouses or children themselves. The women who are coming today are women who have families, are often married. They often have children and they're leaving many of them behind.

  • 13:09:16

    NNAMDIManuel, you just completed a study on domestic workers in four cities. Can you tell us about that? What did you set out to look at?

  • 13:09:24

    OROZCOWell, we've been working on migrants and permit those recipient people (unintelligible) in about 100 countries so far. And as you step back, we realized that 20 percent of female migrant workers were actually domestic workers on average. In some places, it's 30 percent, like in Costa Rica. Or in Spain, it's about 25 percent. So we tried to look at at least four issues. One is the economic condition, whether they have some extent of financial capability. Two, the labor condition, to what extent their labor rights are protected and enforced institutionally or if the employer respect their rights.

  • 13:10:08

    OROZCOAnd the third issue was the extent of sending money home. And how much commitment do they have, how does it manifest itself, whether it changes, it's different or not, in relationship to other activities.

  • 13:10:20

    NNAMDIMichael, when we talk about the global care chain, one assumption is that this is a single phenomenon, workers leaving developing countries to fill a need in developed countries. From an economist point of view, though, is it that simple?

  • 13:10:36

    OROZCOI think that this global care chain is a global manifestation of something that all of us are very familiar with and it's, in the context that we're talking about today, female labor force participation, women working outside the home. It's happening internationally in this context, but it's something that happens here in D.C., here in America, in the Philippines where some of these care workers come from, at the domestic level. And it means huge opportunities for women. In the context of international migration, even greater opportunities than we're used to thinking about at home.

  • 13:11:12

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. We are discussing the global care chain and taking -- or you can send email to Sonya Michel, the need for care workers is growing both here and around the world. What's contributing to that?

  • 13:11:30

    MICHELWell, there are several factors. One is the fact that more and more women are in the labor force now in the wealthy countries than were before. The number of -- not just of younger women, but women with families. And a number of them are also in what we call the sandwich generation. They not only have children to take care of, but they also have elderly parents or in-laws to take care of. So if they're gonna be in the labor force they need someone else to do some of the care work that they used to do themselves. And I should say that traditionally care work is something that's been assigned to women. It's something that is practically universally true in societies around the world.

  • 13:12:09

    MICHELSo that's one thing, is changes in women's labor force participation. I could give you statistics, but certainly in the post-war period that's happened in many, many places. So actually the migrant care workers, the women who are migrating to be care workers, are part of a global phenomenon. Many women in the richer countries are in the labor force. And then women in the poorer countries are also joining the labor force and migrating in order to find jobs. So that's one thing. Second is -- and this partly explains the turn to migrants -- is as you mentioned before, that native-born workers don't necessarily wanna do this work.

  • 13:12:44

    MICHELAlthough, that's different in different parts of the country. But in many areas of many rich countries native-born workers don't wanna do this work. You know, they can find more lucrative jobs or whatever reason they don't wanna do it. And then another thing is the extent to which countries themselves have developed public services or even private-market-based services to provide elder care and child care. In this country, for example, there's a great shortage of child care. I've written a book on the history of child care in the United States or no child care, as I call it.

  • 13:13:17

    MICHELAnd you know, historically, we've just failed to develop child care in the way that other countries, especially in Europe have done so. So child care is a big area where care workers are needed and it's because of a failure of development on the part of governments or even markets to come up with enough services. And then finally, one of the biggest trends of course is aging, is the trend toward global aging. And in the richer countries, but also in some of the middle or developing countries like Brazil, the proportion of population that's older, that's either needing care or soon going to need care is rapidly increasing.

  • 13:13:53

    MICHELAnd the dependency ratio, the number of active working people to the number of older people is only becoming steeper. That is there are fewer younger people and more older people who are gonna require care. And so the wealthier countries are really acting as magnets and drawing workers from other parts of the world to come and take care of their elderly populations.

  • 13:14:14

    NNAMDIIt's sometimes called intimate labor. Can we get a sense of the kind of work we're talking about here?

  • 13:14:19

    MICHELWell, we're talking about a range of things. I mean we're talking about -- one of the things that people who are studying this like to emphasize is that it is a form of work. Even though it's something that women, especially, have done in the family, it's been part of what's considered their social responsibility, it is a form of work. And when you have to get someone else to do it you need to pay them to do it. So it can range from skilled tasks like administering medications, you know, doing wound dressing, giving hypodermic needles, all kinds of things like that to basic feeding, caring, cleaning, taking someone for a walk, taking them shopping, playing cards with them or you know, playing with a child, whatever.

  • 13:15:04

    MICHELSo it ranges from what is considered to be unskilled work -- although many people who do it would say it is skilled work -- to professionally designated work, work that requires a considerable amount of training. So it includes like, nurses, but it also includes what are called personal care areas.

  • 13:15:21

    NNAMDIWhich causes you, Michael Clemens, to say that one of the issues is that when we talk about domestic work we're really talking about a lot of different types of work. Sonya Michel was just pointing some of them requiring different kinds of skills and that a lot of different sectors are therefore lumped together and that we need to take what you, I guess, would call a finer-grained approach?

  • 13:15:41

    CLEMENSAbsolutely. The willingness of Americans to do these jobs depends on what part of the country, what kind of work, what kind of care work, what kind of health work. The affects on the home country depend critically on the kind of work we're talking about. I think too often migration and its affects are talked about lumped phenomena. And really we're talking about things that are happening to individual people, individual families in very different contexts.

  • 13:16:09

    NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call. In case you're just joining us we're talking about the global care chain with Michael Clemens. He's a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Manuel Orozco is the director for the Remittances and Development Program at Inter-American Dialog. And Sonya Michel is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. She's also a professor of history at the University of Maryland. Do you know anyone who is working as a home care worker? Do you know anyone who's been, in your view, exploited as a home care worker? You can call us at 800-433-8850. You can send email to

  • 13:16:52

    NNAMDIManuel, we're talking about immigrants and that also opens up the issue of exploitation, in some cases based on their status, correct?

  • 13:17:00

    OROZCOWell, in their position as domestic workers, to a large extent, but also their legal status has an effect. In this project we looked -- we, I mean my colleague, Beatriz Slooten and I, have been looking at the labor condition of migrants in different parts of the world. And in most cases, because you call it intimate labor, Beatriz talks about this (unintelligible) role that a worker goes through that invisibilizes them in the private home. That process has a direct affect on your civil rights and predominately your labor rights. And so, for example, in many cases it is taken by the employers as a standard to expect a domestic worker to do almost any type of activity beyond what they would expect them to do.

  • 13:17:55

    OROZCOFor example, you hire someone to do domestic work as a cleaning person and you may ask them to go and wash your car. Or you have a nanny who hired to basically look after your child, but you also ask them, without having negotiated anything, to go and do other activities outside of that work. And sometimes that activity is not compensated properly. So there is not a way to verify where there is a compliance to certain basic labor rights. And this is common standard in most cases.

  • 13:18:29

    NNAMDISonya Michel, one area of care workers that I guess can be argued falls into a different category and that's trained nurses. How are they different?

  • 13:18:39

    MICHELWell, they're different because they are trained, because they are considered to be professionals. They're trained in specific ways. They have to pass tests. They have to be licensed in almost every country. And in fact one of the biggest exporters of nurses, namely the Philippines, has specific programs that are tailored to the destination country. So they'll train people to be able to pass the U.K. nursing test or the American nursing test or the Canadian or whatever. So that's one thing, at the sending end there's a great deal of training and professionalization that goes into it.

  • 13:19:12

    MICHELAt the receiving end, because of the nursing shortage around the world, but especially in the wealthy countries, there is a great demand for nurses. And so there are specific visas, there are visa categories or immigration categories and active recruitment programs that are going on to bring people in. So people come deliberately to work as nurses. They're recruited to work as nurses and they're required to pass through certain qualification tests before they can be licensed. But what's interesting is that even though that's true many professionals end up not working at their skill level for various reasons, they don't pass the test or they don't get to take the test or something happens, there's a glitch.

  • 13:19:57

    MICHELAnd they end up working at lower-level jobs. So they may be registered nurses at home and they may end up working nurses aids or even as private in-home care workers when they get to the destination country.

  • 13:20:11


  • 13:20:11

    OROZCOJust to illustrate what Sonya was mentioning, in our study, 24 percent of female migrant workers from the Philippines working in Hong Kong had a university degree and they have training. Whereas in the other countries, in Costa Rica for example, was less than 3 percent of people would have (word?) education. And in the U.S., it's less than 20 percent of people who have some education at university level.

  • 13:20:37

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on the global care chain and take your calls at 800-433-8850. Did you come to this country as a domestic worker or a nanny? What's been your experience? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:22:54

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the global care chain. We're talking with Manuel Orozco. He is the director for Remittances and Development Program at Inter-American Dialogue, a center that looks on policy exchange and communication in western hemisphere affairs. Sonya Michel is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center. She's also a professor of history at the University of Maryland. And Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Here is Jess in Front Royal, Va. Jess, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:23:27

    JESSHi, Kojo. Hi, guys. I was calling because I am actually a domestic care worker. I'm a nanny and I have to say that in my experience as being a nanny, and I've also worked in daycare centers as a preschool teacher, there is very little training for the people who are hired in any of the positions. It's pretty much like if you're working at a daycare center, all you have to do is have a high school education and be 18 and pretty much you're allowed to work.

  • 13:23:56

    JESSBut also I just wanted to make a comment that most domestic care workers, whether born or domestic, are pretty much exploited. I don't want to go into too much detail just because, you know, my employers might be listening. But there's a lot of times that, you know, you don’t really get to decide what you're doing or anything like that. You're kind of saddled with more kids than you're promised. You're kept longer than you're supposed to. And there's really no one to complain to because the people that are your bosses are the only people in the chain of hierarchy. So you're kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place. And that's all.

  • 13:24:38

    NNAMDIThank you very much for that call. First, I'll call on you, Sonya Michel, to talk about what you might characterize as the vulnerability in domestic work that Jess just described.

  • 13:24:49

    MICHELRight. I think what Jess described is, unfortunately, very typical. It's due to a lot of things. One is the isolation, particularly when people are in-home caregivers. It's one thing if they work in a childcare center where they may have coworkers and it may be part of an institution like a university or a church or something like that and there tends to be more oversight and in fact even state regulation. But I think Manuel used the term invisibilized before to describe particularly in-home caregivers.

  • 13:25:18

    MICHELOne of the ways that people -- employers tend to regard them or like to think about these people as being -- they like to think of them as being "one of the family." And they try to, what we would say, naturalize the job to sort of integrate the person into the family. And of course if you're part of the family than you don't want to be complaining about wages and hours. That's not very family like. That's not -- you know, that sort of violates the norm of loyalty -- family loyalty and affection.

  • 13:25:45

    MICHELAnd that certainly is true with childcare workers who are expected to want to take care of children because they love children and because they love these particular children. They love the employers' children very much. And often they do and that is often one of the reasons they go into it. But that doesn't mean they don't have lives of their own, that they don't need to earn money and so forth.

  • 13:26:03

    MICHELBecause a lot of this employment is private -- until very recently, domestic workers didn't even get social security. Their employers were not required to pay into social security and we know, through many Washington scandals, that there were many people who didn't pay their employee's social security. They, you know, they don't get benefits, they don't get health insurance, they don't get pension benefits, they don't get paid vacations, they don't get days off and so forth. So that's one of the sort of reasons for all this.

  • 13:26:32

    MICHELThe other thing is that it's very difficult to organize, to unionize domestic workers or people -- private care workers. And this is for a series of reasons. One is because they are -- until quite recently they've been exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act, from the labor law that governs labor organizing in this country. And that's true in other places as well

  • 13:26:54

    MICHELAnd in fact President Obama is working now on trying to pass a rule to end what they call the companion worker exemption. That is someone who is only working as a companion to an older person or a person with disabilities shouldn't have limitations on their hours. They shouldn't be paid overtime and so forth. And President Obama, at the behest of a number of organizations, is trying to change that.

  • 13:27:17

    MICHELIt's also hard to organize people who work in a number of different private homes. A very effective form of organization that took place in Montgomery County, Md. actually recently by -- on the part of CASA de Maryland, which you probably know about, was they went to playgrounds and they went to bus stops. And they found nannies and they found personal care workers and, you know, sort of got them when they were in public and started to talk to them and find out about their working conditions and eventually passed a countywide statute to try to improve their working conditions.

  • 13:27:50

    NNAMDIWe did invite CASA de Maryland, but the organization was not able to find a representative to join us. If you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. Do you have any help at home from someone from another country, a nanny, elder care companion, housecleaner? Do you provide health insurance? Do you pay overtime, pay into social security, 40-hour a week observations? 800-433-8850.

  • 13:28:15

    NNAMDII am glad our caller mentioned between a rock and a hard place because if, on the one hand, the rock is the conditions under which the person has to work in the home, the hard place, Michael Clemens, might be the conditions that are being experienced in the country from which that person comes. Because when you hear about Filipino nurses being taught with American textbooks with the entire purpose of serving in the United States, one has to wonder what the nursing profession is like in the Philippines or in other countries where workers are coming from. What does this global care chain do in those countries?

  • 13:28:52

    CLEMENSKojo, your show always has great discussions and I really appreciate how the discussion on this show about exploitation is focusing on exploitation as an exploitation problem and not as a migration problem. And the reason is exactly what you just said. The care workers that we're talking about, if we're talking about a Filipino care worker working in the United States, that person makes roughly ten times what they can earn in the Philippines doing the exact same work here. And if you want to know what that can mean to somebody's life and for their family's life think of how your life would change if you took a 90 percent pay cut tomorrow.

  • 13:29:26

    CLEMENSWhen those workers are exploited, and Manuel has documented that large fractions of them are very vulnerable and arguably more vulnerable than Jess, maybe because of language barriers, maybe because of lack of familiarity with the legal system here, that's something that needs to be attacked, but as an exploitation problem. And to me to say that it's a migration problem, that people often say well, you know, there are gains to migration but a lot of them get exploited. I'm not really sure if migration's a good thing.

  • 13:29:55

    CLEMENSTo me, that's exactly the same as saying black college graduates are getting racist treatment in the workplace and that's a college education problem. Well, it's not a college education problem. It's a problem that all workers are not being treated well. Jess's rights need to be protected. Other workers' rights need to be protected but it's not a problem that arises from migration.

  • 13:30:17

    NNAMDIIn your four-city study, Manual, you looked specifically at Washington D.C. And one of the findings that was somewhat surprising is that nearly 30 percent of people of immigrants here were considered vulnerable as opposed to the rest of the country. Can you explain what that means?

  • 13:30:35

    OROZCOYes. We looked at two indicators of vulnerability. One is the financial capability. To what extent people can actually stand on their own by being able to save, own bank accounts, earned incomes a little bit above average and have some assets. And for the most part, 30 percent of people basically did not own a bank account, were not able to save.

  • 13:31:01

    OROZCOIn fact, this is very important. In general when we look at male and female migrants, 60 percent of them are able to save for example. In the case of female domestic workers the percentage is much lower. It is about 35 percent. They have more obligations but they also earn less money. The monthly income is about $1400 a month. And that, you know, refers also in part to what Michael was talking about. You make $1400 a month. In your home country, you will be making more or less $1 a day or $50 a month. That $600 is one-third what you will make in your country.

  • 13:31:39

    OROZCOSo we looked at that. We also looked at the extent to which the labor rights, the labor condition looked like. And so we asked the number of hours they worked. We also looked into whether they were not compensated for working extra hours or doing activities outside of their duties, whether they were subject to some abuse. I mean, this particular case, 20 percent say they have suffered some form of abuse. The large majority was verbal abuse.

  • 13:32:05

    NNAMDINearly 80 percent have no medical insurance.

  • 13:32:08

    OROZCOOh, and that's actually quite a -- not a surprising percentage. We looked at male migrants. Actually the percentage is even higher. It might be up to 90 percent. Only 10 percent of male migrants actually have some form of health insurance. And in this case what was surprising is that there was a small percentage, about 7 percent, whose employer was paying their medical insurance.

  • 13:32:33

    NNAMDIOn to the telephones again, here is Claire in Washington, D.C. Claire, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:32:42

    CLAIREGood morning, Kojo, and -- good afternoon, and thank you for taking my call. I love your show and I love what you're doing.

  • 13:32:48

    NNAMDIThank you.

  • 13:32:49

    CLAIREAnd just like I was telling you -- or your associate (unintelligible) just a few minutes ago is that the home health aides, you know, in D.C. You know, myself, I used to have an agency, they call it a - I was a contractor for home health aides. You know, I heard them -- my call is only to make a comment, is not even to ask a question. I heard the gentleman talk about Filipinos, Filipinos. But, you know, if you look at all the home health aides in D.C. most of those workers are from central Africa, and then they have the problem with -- because they're French speaking.

  • 13:33:29

    CLAIREAnd these people are getting abused every day by the agencies and also by the people that they're going home to take care of. I myself closed my agency because there was a lot of complaints. When you take in home health aides, you send this person to - what is that? They call it a sick person's home, what is happening the person will tell the person to clean up, do things that they don't supposed to do. They not pay overtime. They are not pay anything. And then if the person say I cannot do that, they will call the agency and the agency would -- they would have to fire the person.

  • 13:34:06

    NNAMDISo you got out of the home health care agency business is what you're saying as a result of this.

  • 13:34:12

    CLAIREYes. And then, the agency get away with all of these abuse. But that person will end up being in the street without working. Some of them don't pay taxes. They take taxes from these girls' paychecks, but they don't pay them.

  • 13:34:28

    NNAMDIClaire mentioned people from West Africa. When we were talking about Filipinos, Claire, we were talking about nurses in particular. But when we're talking about domestic help we're talking mostly, Manuel, about immigrants. And that raises the question of whether or not people fully understand their rights in that situation.

  • 13:34:46

    OROZCOOh, yes. And look, I think, you can look at this from at least three different angles. One is the legal status, how do they come in, whether they come through a work contract or not. The second one is, their skill transferability, how skilled training -- and one of the earlier callers made a very important point about the need to provide training to some of these laborers. And a third type -- and a third component -- a third angle is the type of work that they are going to provide, whether it is elderly care, nanny work or domestic cleaning work.

  • 13:35:22

    OROZCOBut, you know, in the case of domestic work in general when it comes to the United States, over 60 percent of female migrants domestic workers are actually without legal status. And that on the spot puts you quite vulnerably and you have no awareness that whether your labor -- your legal status is irregular, you still have labor rights. And, you know, that does include fair pay.

  • 13:35:49

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Claire. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. If you have called, stay on the line. I want to get to your call but there's some issues that I'd like to address first. Sonya, earlier this month a treaty called the Domestic Workers Convention was ratified. What is it and what does it propose?

  • 13:36:09

    MICHELThis is a convention of the International Labor Organization, the ILO. It was actually passed by the ILO last year in 2011 and their 100th anniversary -- their 100th conference. And it's called Decent Work for Domestic Workers. It's a convention and the ILO passes these conventions, these agreements among their membership but of course they have no binding power. They have no -- there's no control over whether the member countries are going to ratify them or observe them or whatever. The U.S….

  • 13:36:39

    NNAMDIHow significant was it that Philippines and Europe wide ratified?

  • 13:36:44

    MICHELWell, I mean, it's obvious why the Philippines did because such a large part of their GNP comes from remittances. And exporting labor is one of their major products. Uruguay, I'm not sure why -- maybe you know, Manuel -- about why they did. But in any case, the -- I mean, the -- this convention was ratified by representatives of all of the members of the ILO. But that doesn't mean that they have any say over whether or not the individual countries will ratify them.

  • 13:37:12

    MICHELThe U.S. has a long history of never ratifying anything. And it's a question of sovereignty. They feel that it's an infringement on their sovereignty to allow some international body to dictate what labor -- you know, what national labor laws are going to be -- or -- and in the U.S. it's even more complicated because labor laws are also passed at the state level or in Canada at the provincial level, and then even at the local level.

  • 13:37:34

    MICHELSo for example, I'm not even sure how much power this law that was passed in -- ordinance I guess it is -- in Montgomery County. I'm not even sure how much -- how well it can be enforced. I don't know if the Montgomery County police are going to go around enforcing it, I'm not sure. But it's a question of sovereignty.

  • 13:37:52

    NNAMDIWell, New York State has passed this on, though.

  • 13:37:53

    MICHELYes, New York State has passed one, yeah.

  • 13:37:54

    NNAMDITell us about some of its provisions.

  • 13:37:57

    MICHELIt's provisions include limiting hours and requiring that overtime be paid as overtime, time and a half. It requires minimum wage. It requires -- I think it requires a contract -- a written contract about what specifically the duties of the worker are going to be so that someone who's hired to be an elder care worker for example is not going to be expected to do the family's laundry, things like that.

  • 13:38:22

    MICHELI'm not sure whether the New York State law has it. I know the Montgomery County has regulations concerning live-in care workers, live-in workers. They have to be given a certain amount of space, a private room, access to, you know, bathroom and so forth. And I think certain regulations about food. But it's -- the New York State law primarily has to do with wages and hours.

  • 13:38:44

    NNAMDIGot some other issues I'd like to address, but we have some callers who have been patiently waiting on the line for a while. So allow me to go to them. Here is Peter. Peter, you're in Charlotte Home, Md. Peter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:38:58

    PETERHey, Kojo, yeah. I really appreciate your show and the perspective of all panelists this afternoon. You know, my wife and I are both working professionals and we have the love of our life, a new baby that's now about seven months old. But we found ourselves in a dilemma here that I assume many parents -- working parents find themselves in, which is sort of the conflict between finding the best personalized care that really is going to take care of your baby or your child the best way that you think that they could versus, you know, really looking for a fair equitable -- you know, the right way to find the care.

  • 13:39:40

    PETERSo to give you a quick example of, you know, the difference -- some -- we've loved our caretakers and we feel like, you know, that they've loved our family back. But we realize that, you know, overall it doesn't seem like we pay them -- though we are paying them the market rate -- we pay them really what they're truly worth to us. Well, at the same time though we want to retain that care because clearly our daughter's getting more personalized better care from this individual than she would get in daycare. So I'll take my answer off the line or the perspective off the line. But once again, I really appreciate this discussion.

  • 13:40:14

    NNAMDISo what -- your question is? Peter?

  • 13:40:18

    PETERSo my question is, I'm just curious as to whether the panel has any thoughts about how -- if there's any other methods for trying to find child care, or for sort of better serving those caretakers in your house, while, you know...

  • 13:40:37

    NNAMDIHow do you balance compensation -- how do you balance whatever you provide to your caretaker with the quality of care that you're obviously getting? Any thoughts on that Manuel?

  • 13:40:48

    OROZCOThat's a very good question. I have dealt with it personally. We have three children. Right now we have a six month old son, and it's not easy. And, you know, you have to look at your budget. If you want to give a fair pay to someone, you're going to have to pay about $2,000 a month. Now, to be able to pay that, you have to earn at least $70, $80,000 a year.

  • 13:41:14


  • 13:41:14

    OROZCOAnd actually that's exaggerating. You need to earn a hundred thousand dollars a year to pay two thousand dollars just for your children's -- your child care. So, you know, what do you have child care, you go to a child care center, well, it's going to charge you about $2,000.

  • 13:41:30

    NNAMDIYeah. About how the individual what wants somebody to actually come in their home on an individual basis, pay that person appropriately, think about health insurance, think it...

  • 13:41:39

    OROZCOIt comes around -- but it comes around that cost. Some sort of -- 1800 or...

  • 13:41:42

    MICHELRight. Right.

  • 13:41:42


  • 13:41:43

    MICHELWell, and probably worth every penny. But I think one of the assumptions here is that child care is -- the value the child care accrues only to the parents. And in fact, if we think about it, children are a -- they're a social good. We all -- if we, you know, some of us have children, some of us don't, but we all need children. We need to replenish the population, and especially as we're aging, we're certainly going to need people to take care of us in our old age and also to keep paying into social security assuming that that lasts.

  • 13:42:12

    MICHELBut in any case, the countries that provide decent public child care, of course, we always come up with the example of Sweden, but there are other places in the world that do it also, regard children and child care as a national good. They regard it as a social benefit. They regard the kind of, you know, giving children good care, enrichment, developmental care at an early age, start, you know, with infancy and going right through toddlerhood, leads to an educated work force to, you know, of people who are going to be effective members of society and so forth.

  • 13:42:45

    MICHELSo it's not just that the value accrues to the parents, but that it accrues to the whole society, and if that's the case, then the entire society should bear the cost of child care.

  • 13:42:52


  • 13:42:53

    MICHELSo that it is an individual -- parents are an individual couple, or if you're a single parent, having to pay, you know, $24,000 a year or something like that, but that the care is subsidized. And when that happens, then working conditions tend to improve. People have limited hours, they have benefits, they work, you know, I happen to being a great believer in child care centers, even for infants, assuming that the ratio of care givers to children is a good one, and, you know, then the care can be regulated, exploitation is less, but also poor care, you know, the chances the get poor care is also reduced.

  • 13:43:29

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, but when we come back, Michael Clemens, I want to get to the issue the some people feeling that one of the ways of dealing with the challenge of making sure that domestic workers get their rights or are not deprived of their rights is by going after recruiters. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. You can send email to How do you think we can address the growing need for care workers both here and in developing countries? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:46:07

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the global care chain. We're talking with Manuel Orozco director for the remittances and development program at Inter-American Dialogue, which looks at policy, exchange and communication in western hemisphere affairs. Sonya Michel is a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She's also a professor of history at the University of Maryland. Michael Clemens is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

  • 13:46:32

    NNAMDIThere are a lot of the international aspects of this that we have to discuss. One of them, Michael Clemens, is the notion that maybe we can help to avoid the exploitation of immigrant domestic workers if we can deal with the recruiters, cracking down on the recruiters who make false promises to these people who bring them here under false pretenses. You don't think that that's necessarily a good idea.

  • 13:46:58

    CLEMENSWell, here's how I like to think about this. Here in the U.S. we have our own developing areas, certainly Washington DC has low income areas. So if we're talking about a care gap in the Philippines say, there are parts of Washington that have major gaps. I'm talking about Ward 8 neighborhoods, Congress Heights, Anacostia, Berry Farm. They have not only care gaps, but entrepreneur gaps, community leader gaps, teacher gaps, all kinds of gaps.

  • 13:47:24

    CLEMENSAnd if we think about recruiting internationally, recruiting is offering people jobs. It's not hog tying people and throwing them onto ships against their will, it's saying, here's a job in Washington DC that you could take if you want. And if we think about the local phenomenon that corresponds to that, it's saying, hey, you live in Ward 8, but here's a job that are qualified for in northwest DC.

  • 13:47:48

    CLEMENSAnd when we think about what's right and wrong, I think it's useful to think in that context. What would be want to happen in that context? Well, I don't think it would be right to ban recruitment of people who live in Ward 8 to jobs in northwest because there are all of those gaps in Ward 8. It certainly -- that's arguably ineffective and an unethical way to deal with the problems of Ward.

  • 13:48:11

    CLEMENSI think self-sufficiency for northwest, the international analog of which the World Health Organization urges for health workers, I think is also morally and practically problematic the jobs of northwest with people who live there so that nobody in Ward 8 can take them and have to stay in Ward 8. But what would we want? We would want people telling the truth for sure. We would want people getting the contracts that they were promised and those contracts being enforced, and that's certainly what we would want at the international level too.

  • 13:48:39

    CLEMENSI don't really see differences among what we would want, but I know what we wouldn't want, and that's recruitment bans, recruitment limits and self-sufficiency. We certainly wouldn't want that in Washington DC.

  • 13:48:50

    NNAMDIWell, of course in Malawi is what they did -- they tried to crack down or recruiters in Malawi because nurses were being recruited from Malawi, and Malawi felt that they were experiencing a shortage of nurses. Sonya Michel, most of us are familiar with the idea of the global brain drain. Looking at this issue, some see a global care drain in what is happening to the families and societies that these domestic workers are leaving. Can you talk about that?

  • 13:49:17

    MICHELYeah. Yeah. No. I think that's very true. I mean, like Michael, I think that people should be free to migrate if they want. I mean, I -- my husband and I commuted for many years with academic jobs in two parts of the country. We were in effect labor migrants only we were within the United States. So people should be able to migrate and find better, you know, working employment opportunities if they are available.

  • 13:49:38

    MICHELBut the fact that so much -- and as a feminist I certainly wouldn't want to say that women shouldn't be allowed to migrate. They should be allowed to take whatever jobs they want. But, it is also the case that when women leave the family, they take their caring work with them, and it's often very difficult to find substitutes for it. Sometimes their spouses stay at home and do the work, although, a lot of men tend not to want to do this kind of work. They -- other family members may fill in, and most of the countries that -- most of the sending countries are too poor to be able to provide public social services.

  • 13:50:09

    MICHELSo we have a lack of child care in a lot of these countries. We have an absence of people who are going to take kids to clinics, or are going to make sure they go to school, or going to make sure they do their homework, or make sure they have nutritious meals. And ironically what's happening is that this interfering with the fulfillment of the UN's millennial development goals which includes improving child health and lowering infant mortality, improving nutrition, improving education rates and so forth.

  • 13:50:37

    MICHELSo what we have is a case of the rich countries which are, you know, endorsing and putting forth these millennial development goals for the poorer countries on the one hand, and on the other hand, we are basically undermining those goals by creating a demand for workers and attracting care workers who are largely women to come to our countries and do this work.

  • 13:50:56

    NNAMDIMichael Clemens?

  • 13:50:57

    CLEMENSCan I jump in that? I think these concerns are incredibly important, but I really think we lack evidence on it, and I have to say you have a piece in the Globalist which I thought made a brilliant analogy to the concerns about latch key children in the 1940s and '50s. People were still talking about latchkey kids when I was a kid. It's a term you don't even hear anymore, but there was major concern that woman's entry into the labor force was going to -- as it certainly did, take away care time that they would have been spending on their children and other family members, what the long term affects of that on the nation's children might be, there was talk of a generation of kids growing up, you know, morally bankrupt and all of these things.

  • 13:51:36

    NNAMDIRaising themselves.

  • 13:51:38

    CLEMENSRaising themselves, and those concerns were legitimate. Nobody, I think legitimately thought them a reason to limit in any way the entry of women into the labor force, and I'm sure you wouldn't think that either. It wasn't until the 1980s and '90 that we had long-term studies actually comparing "latch key children," quote unquote, to other kids and seeing whether or not their moral intellectual development was impaired, and my understanding of that research literature is that almost nothing was found.

  • 13:52:11

    CLEMENSThat there weren't some of the major fears of the 1940s and '50 were realized. There is concern that this could affect the -- that the international movement of care workers could affect child mortality, for example as you're seeing, that it could possibly lead to child death, but I've never seen any clear evidence of that, and I think before -- go ahead.

  • 13:52:28

    OROZCOYeah. If I can...

  • 13:52:30

    NNAMDIBut then there's this, and I'd like you to address this, Manuel, as you'd address the issue we're discussing. We got this email from Magali (sp?) in Berg, Va., who said, "In some developing countries, domestic workers are often people from disenfranchised social groups and they have few rights while working in the home. Do foreign attitudes about domestic workers in our countries affect how these folks are treated when they come to the United States?"

  • 13:52:51

    OROZCOThat's a very good question. I think that's an excellent question and it goes back to the issue of the conditions in the home country. I disagree that there is a global care drain. Most of the workers that come to provide some form of care, whether it is cleaning or looking after children, et cetera, develop their skills as they move into the work place. They don't come with all this training. I think there are exceptions or there are particular cases where this is different.

  • 13:53:21

    OROZCOFor example when you receive training, the Filipino workers that go to Hong Kong, et cetera. But the reality is that in every country there are labor laws that deal with domestic work, but there is very little enforcement. And in countries, for example, like Costa Rica, the 25, 30 percent of female migrant workers for example who do domestic work, they represent only 20 percent of the total domestic work population in Costa Rica.

  • 13:53:50

    OROZCOThat means 80 percent of the domestic workers are actually native Costa Ricans. You may find in the U.S. something of a not so similar breakdown, but there is a pattern there, and the labor right enforcement is still missing. It's missing in Spain, it's missing in many places, and I think this is where we need to start looking at what is the labor right condition of every individual in the domestic work field, and this is one of the most important contributions of the ILO Convention, that it looked into not only migrants, but it looked into domestic work.

  • 13:54:23

    OROZCOSo in that sense I think you have -- now, the other issue is, in my research, what we've done looking at remittance recipients households, we actually see that there is improvement in the condition of those who receive remittances. In terms of increasing their financial assets, but also in terms of increasing their school attendance. So we have looked at think in different countries and we find that there is a slight impact. So yes, there is an issue of the separation, and that's an emotional aspect that needs to be addressed through psychological counseling for example.

  • 13:54:57

    OROZCOWe don't pay attention to it. We assume it's okay. But we also need to be certain of the various impacts that this has, and avoid the normative or moralizing component when we say the people left behind. Migrants do not leave or abandon their relatives when they migrate. They just separate for a reason, and they try to maintain the relationship and it's hard. You struggle with this every day. You want to go back to them, and, you know, with you cope with it through different ways, and this is helping to cope from a policy perspective is so important.

  • 13:55:35

    NNAMDISonya Michel.

  • 13:55:36

    MICHELYeah. I mean, I agree that, I mean, I think we need to think of remittances in fact as a form of family responsibility, as an expression of family responsibility, and the fact that you have found such a high level of, if not necessarily monetary level, but the high percentage of migrants who do remit, I mean, that's an expression of a sense of loyalty to their families and many people, many women, regard, you know, providing financial support to their families as an expression of their motherly responsibility.

  • 13:56:02

    MICHELSo I -- and I also agree with Michael that we need more -- I mean, this is a hunch on my part that we're -- there's some anecdotal evidence, but I think we do need more empirical work, we need more information about exactly what the impact is. I mean, on the one hand, remittances are redistributing financial resources from one part of the world to the other, but at what cost, psychological and otherwise.

  • 13:56:22

    MICHELBut one form of migration and labor migration that could possibly be a solution to this is circular migration. This is something that's been going on to a great extent within the EU in Europe from eastern Europe to western Europe where a lot of women are migrating from one country to the, you know, from the poor countries to the wealthier countries to take care work jobs. And what we see is that two women often will -- or two or three women will share a job. Two sisters, a mother daughter, two friends, so that the receiving -- the family -- the employing family has continuity of care because they have two or three people who are always going to be there providing care.

  • 13:56:59

    MICHELAnd at the same time, the workers are able to go back to see their own families and to take care of their own families on a regular basis. They sometimes alternate monthly, six weeks, two months, whatever. The proximity of the countries allows them to do that, and this is something that I -- Michael and I were talking earlier, I wonder if there's a -- I would like to see a discussion of this in the United States.

  • 13:57:22

    MICHELWe've had temporary workers programs in the past, the Bracero Program which, of course, was notoriously abusive and has been largely discounted or dismissed. But now we do, even today, we have temporary Visas for agricultural workers, and I think that given the fact that the U.S. is creating such a demand for care workers, much of which is being filled by migrants, we need to recognize that demand and acknowledge is somehow or another in our immigration laws.

  • 13:57:50

    NNAMDIThe global care chain is what we have been discussing. Obviously a discussion that we will be pursuing in the future as people like Manuel and Sonya and Michael study these issues and we get to know more about them. Manuel is Manuel Orozco, director for the remittances and development program at Inter-American Dialogue. Sonya is Sonya Michel, senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a professor of history at the University of Maryland. And Michael is Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development.

  • 13:58:20

    NNAMDIThank you all so much for joining us, and thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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