Does Universal Pre-K Have a Downside—for Nannies?


Yesenia Marroquin (left), 39, and Ana Osejo (right), 64, walk their employers' children back to their homes. Osejo and Marroquin are both from El Salvador, and have worked as a nanny for 4 and 8 years respectively.

Yesenia Marroquin (left), 39, and Ana Osejo (right), 64, walk their employers’ children back to their homes. Marroquin and Osejo are both from El Salvador, and have worked as a nanny for four and eight years respectively. (Annie Wu/NY City Lens)

Most New Yorkers are in favor of mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for a universal pre-kindergarten program. But one group is quietly nervous about it: nannies.

Ask Pema Sherpa, a Queens resident who has worked 19 years as a nanny. She fears that the free pre-school program will shrink the number of families who will need the services of people like her.

“It’s good for the parents, but not for the nannies,” said Sherpa.

Sherpa is used to the general insecurity of her occupation. She points out that nannies have to leave each position every few years, after a child grows older, attends school, and no longer need as much supervision. “Every job doesn’t last long,” she says. “Every three years, you have to find another job.”

Some families are willing to help the nanny find her next job by posting an advertisement online or recommending the nanny to other families with young children, but Sherpa says she has had her share of less-than-considerate employers. One family told her they were going on vacation, only to text her the next day with the message that she was no longer needed. With universal pre-kindergarten, she believes the situation for nannies will be further exacerbated.

Several other nannies expressed similar concerns when asked about the impact of the city’s new plans. De Blasio’s pre-kindergarten expansion, which was recently allotted $300 million in state funding, will offer free full-day classes for 4,268 four-year-olds in New York City public schools this fall. The mayor plans to add up to 73,000 seats in public schools and community-based organizations by next fall.

Nannies at the organizing group, Domestic Workers United, have not discussed the potential effect of Pre-K at their weekly meetings, but Christine Lewis, the group’s cultural and outreach coordinator, agrees that it is “a dialogue we should be having.” She believes that some nannies may lose work if their employers want to cut costs. “We are busy working. We don’t become aware of big issues until the parent says to the nanny, ‘we are letting you go’. They forget that you have bills, that you have a life. That puts you in a funk. We’re one of the most unregulated workforce,” Lewis said.

But Lewis feels there will still be demand for nannies—to pick up children from school and look after them until their parents return home, for example. Other families may still prefer the individual attention and time flexibility that comes with hired nannies, rather than preschool. And some may still keep their nannies long after the children go to school, as a housekeeper or as an occasional babysitter when the parents go on vacation.

A nanny’s salary differs greatly, depending on her years of experience, whether the pay is on or off the books, and the number of children she is caring for. According to an annual survey of families from Park Slope and surrounding Brooklyn neighborhoods conducted by the parenting group, Park Slope Parents, families paid between $12.77 and $19.25 per hour to their nannies in 2013. The numbers vary, but hiring a nanny in north Brooklyn is usually more expensive than sending the child to preschool or daycare, said Jessica Morrow-Glorieux, co-founder of the local parenting group, WillyPoint Kids. In north Brooklyn, full-day preschool ranges from $1,800 to $2,200 per month, she said. A nanny who is compensated well, on the other hand, may earn $2,400 to $3,200 a week.

Still, in some cases, parents with more than one child may find hiring a nanny more affordable than paying for more than one seat at a daycare. Beth Cooper Benjamin, a Park Slope resident who hires a nanny to care for her infant son, feels that while some nannies could potentially get fewer hours of work after their employers’ children attend Pre-K, universal pre-kindergarten will ultimately benefit them—because nannies will also be able to place their children in the free program. She also noted that many families around her hire a nanny for their child’s early years, then move them to preschool at around age three. With universal Pre-K, Cooper Benjamin believes families can use the money they will save on Pre-K to keep employing their nanny for after school hours or for a second child. “Anything that improves affordability for families is going to benefit everybody,” she said.

Hand in Hand—The Domestic Employers Network is a national group of employers who advocate for fair working conditions for the domestic workers they hire. The group has endorsed universal Pre-K, writing in a recent statement: “We believe that all children have a right to affordable, high-quality early education and that Universal Pre-K will make New York a more fair and caring city for all its working families.” The group recently launched a community initiative in Brooklyn to encourage more families to make their home a fair workplace, releasing a “fair care pledge” that employers can sign, promising they will provide severance pay and wages of at least $15 per hour, among other provisions.

The goal of a secure and well-paying job for nannies remains elusive, however. If a nanny finds that her employer’s child will be going to preschool, she may have to find another family to work for during the day, then return to the first family in the afternoon, Morrow-Glorieux said. Or the family may let go of the nanny in lieu of hiring a babysitter for the afterschool hours. When her employer’s children went to preschool, nanny Natacha Felix was able to still work full-time for the family, doing laundry, running small errands, and cleaning up the house while the children were in school. Felix continued to work for the same family for ten years, taking care of their three children. But Felix believes other nannies won’t be as lucky as her. “They might keep you for after school or part time. But it depends. In this economy, it’s varied. You can’t really tell what will happen.”

Her other nanny friends expressed worries when she discussed the universal Pre-K issue with them. “It will benefit some families, but not all of them,” Felix said. “Some people will lose jobs. Especially babysitters, who don’t have a degree and can’t find any other job. It kind of sucks.” Inevitably, a nanny will get fewer hours of work as children grow older.

But Felix is optimistic, having worked 17 years as a nanny. “Babies are born every day. So new jobs are coming in.”