‘I need the money, but I also deserve respect.’ This social worker is living paycheck to paycheck after coronavirus dried up her nanny business

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Crystal Crawford, an Atlanta, Ga., school social worker who supplemented her income by nannying on evenings and weekends, watched client after client cancel last month as the city ramped up social distancing. Parents’ newly remote work arrangements and event cancellations meant they didn’t need her to watch their kids.

But Crawford, who has worked as a nanny for more than 15 years, said she was surprised when just two of the eight to 10 families in her regular rotation reached out to see if she was OK.

“They always would say, ‘Oh, you’re like part of the family’ — but you don’t leave your family out there to be struggling,” she told MarketWatch. “I need the money, but I also deserve respect.”

Crawford, 34, earns $45,000 a year as a full-time social worker at a nonprofit school that serves students who have experienced homelessness. Her nannying business — which spanned parents’ standing date nights, family vacations and out-of-town conferences — would pull in $1,000 a month “easily,” she said.

Absent that income stream, Crawford said, she is essentially living paycheck to paycheck. She can no longer participate in the continuing-education webinars she typically budgets in — and if her gym were open, she wouldn’t be able to afford the fee. For now, she is taking advantage of free online classes and workouts.

Recently, Crawford began stretching her groceries to last over a longer period of time: skipping breakfast and just drinking coffee, skimping on buying fresh fruits and vegetables, and portioning out a big pot of spaghetti over three or four days. “It’s been a little wild over here,” she said. “I don’t even like pasta like that.”

After she mentioned the grocery-rationing to her parents, who live in Augusta, Ga., they offered to help and sent groceries via Instacart. But Crawford, who said she dislikes asking for help, acknowledged that many others in her situation have no such safety net.

‘We always say, “Child care is not going anywhere” … We can’t say that anymore.’

“I’m very blessed to have [my parents’] support, but I know there are a lot of nannies that don’t have that,” she said. “They’ve lost their jobs, and they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”

The U.S. is home to about 2.2 million domestic workers, including home-care aides, child-care workers and house cleaners, according to an analysis of government data by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. Disproportionate shares of these workers are black and Hispanic, and they are more likely than workers in other occupations to be foreign-born. Nearly 92% are women.

A recent report from the National Domestic Workers Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group, warned that domestic workers were experiencing “extreme job loss” and greater unemployment relative to the overall workforce, with many uncertain as to when they could resume their jobs. Some 72% of the thousands of survey respondents said they had no jobs for the week of April 6, and majorities reported food insecurity and trouble making rent for April. Around three in four workers said they were their households’ primary breadwinners.

Crawford, who is paying off almost $59,000 in outstanding student loans along with a nearly $5,000 personal loan, said she has little in savings right now. Her social-worker salary is enough to cover rent and utilities, she said, “but anything outside of that is up in the air.” She counts herself among the four in 10 Americans who are, according to Federal Reserve research, unable to afford a $400 emergency expense.

To that end, she recently applied for — and received — $400 in assistance from a coronavirus relief fund established by the National Domestic Workers Alliance, for which she is an incoming board member. She immediately applied the money toward her car payment.

Crawford fears that a socially distanced society will become “our new normal”; that parents will continue to work from home and have low demand for child care. “We always say, ‘Child care is not going anywhere’ … We can’t say that anymore,” she said. “For it to dry up all of a sudden, and the work is gone or almost gone for some people, is just mind-blowing.”

Crawford urged people to call the caregivers and housekeepers who would typically be coming to work for them.

Courtesy of Crystal Crawford

In addition to her social work and nanny jobs, Crawford runs a nanny-referral agency for high-profile clients (who have been “few and far between” lately), takes speaking engagements (she was set to speak at the since-canceled International Nanny Association conference in Montreal), and enjoys mentoring and coaching up-and-coming nannies.

While the self-described “Jacklyn of all trades” said she feels uncertain about the future, she is also hopeful that the pandemic can pave the way for a new beginning — giving her time and space to “think outside the box” for ways to supplement her income.

“I’m always constantly on the go — as soon as I leave my position as a social worker in the afternoons, I go straight into nannying,” she said. “I’m excited that this has given me a chance to just rest and figure it all out. I may have this creative idea that pushes me to the next level.” One potential idea: launching a nonprofit to offer child care to families experiencing homelessness.

Crawford believes that nannies and other domestic workers should have access to paid time off, sick leave and universal health care going forward.

Looking ahead, Crawford hopes that Atlanta and the state of Georgia will soon ease stay-at-home restrictions and allow some people to get back to work safely. When the city does open back up, she added, she believes nannies will be in high demand.

“People now understand more than ever how important household employees are — your housekeepers, your caregivers, your nannies and babysitters — because these are the people who help you stay afloat so you can concentrate on getting to work,” she said. “I’m open to finding people that are willing to show appreciation and [are] willing to pay a rate that I’m comfortable with.”

Of course, a return to relative normalcy will require measures to protect nannies, children and other family members who are going to work, she said, as social distancing may still be necessary for some time. Crawford also believes that nannies and other domestic workers should have access to paid time off, sick leave and universal health care going forward.

In the meantime, Crawford urged people to call the caregivers and housekeepers who would typically be coming to work for them. Those who can afford it could pay workers for a couple hours’ service without having them come over, she suggested, or see if they can pay for services in advance.

“Please check on them,” she said. “A simple ‘Hey, how you doing?’ during this time would go such a long way for people right now.”

Originally Published on MarketWatch

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