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Massachusetts court ruling alters au pair labor status—could this spell change in New York?

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by Alex Pasarelu, from Unsplash

A December ruling by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts affirmed a lower-court decision holding that au pairs working in the state needed to be covered by Massachusetts’ Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. Changes to employment law for au pairs in Massachusetts may of course lead to similar court challenges in other states, including New York. [1]

New York is the second-biggest state for au pairs, drawing in a full 12% of all participants in the program for 2018. Many families in New York and around the country use the au pair program, a federal initiative run out of the State Department, as an affordable way to pay for live-in childcare and provide their children with exposure or instruction to foreign languages. The program requires a stipend of approximately two hundred dollars a week (as well as hosting the au pair) as well as payment of up to five hundred dollars for the au pair’s academic work at a credited post-secondary institution. In contrast, paying an au pair the Massachusetts minimum wage of $12.75 per hour for the maximum 45 hours of work defined under the program for a year would almost triple the cost of retaining this type of worker.

Policymakers as well as families find themselves in a difficult situation with this ruling, as well as with childcare policy more generally. The average annual cost of childcare in the US is around ten thousand dollars, similar to the costs of the au pair program before the ruling. At the same time, domestic work, along with seasonal and migrant farm work, is both historically and currently one of the forms of work with the most scant labor protections, with numerous possibilities for overwork or other forms of abuse. That said, many families in New York will take in the news anxiously as they try to gauge whether their childcare costs will be spiking soon.

[1] Taylor, K. (January 2020) A Court Said Au Pairs Deserve Minimum Wage. Some Families Are Protesting. from NY Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/08/us/au-pair-massachusetts-ruling.html Accessed January 20 2020

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