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Old 12 December 2013, 06:22 PM
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Default Is Service Work Today Worse than Being a Household Servant?

Article here.

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At least one class of American workers is having a much harder time today than a decade ago, than during the Great Depression and than a century ago: servants.

The reason for this, surprisingly enough, is outsourcing. Let me explain.

Prosperous American families have adopted the same approach to wages for servants as big successful companies, hiring freelance outside contractors for all sorts of functions from child care and handyman chores to gardening and cleaning work to reduce costs.

Instead of live-in servants, who were common in prosperous U.S. households before World War II, better-off families now outsource the family cook, maid and nanny. It is part of a problem in developed countries around the globe that is getting more attention worldwide than in the U.S.

We are falling backward in America, back to the Gilded Age conditions of a century and more ago when a few fortunate souls grew fabulously rich while a quarter of families had to take in boarders to make ends meet. Only back then, elites gave their servants a better deal.
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Old 12 December 2013, 06:25 PM
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There was a tradeoff in personal freedom, though. Servants' personal lives were managed and policed.
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Old 12 December 2013, 06:57 PM
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Is this a fair comparison?

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A household cook typically earned $10 a week in 1910, century-old books on the etiquette of hiring servants show. That is $235 per week in today’s money, while the federal minimum wage for 40 hours comes to $290 a week.
From the little I know of servants, a cook in a household would be a upper-tier servant, possibly in charge of other servants. Someone making minimum wage would be closer to a scullery maid or maid-of-all-work. Various sites put the pay for such a job at 10 to 13 pounds per year.

Also, a household servant's job could be as long as 12 to 16 hours per day. Even with a 5 day week (which I believe didn't exist then), that would be 60-80 hours. With required overtime, that would be $580 to $725 a week. With a 6 day job, that would be $710 to $899 a week.
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Old 12 December 2013, 07:18 PM
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How does one value the "room and board" for a live-in servant? Presumably said servant had a place to sleep and meals provided by their employer - factoring that into the comparison, the low pay wouldn't be all that outrageous, except that I believe that the number of hours worked would have likely been significantly more than what we today consider a "normal" work week of 40 hours, with no additional compensation for additional work. It was, effectively, a straight salary position with no upper limit on the work performed.
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Old 12 December 2013, 07:47 PM
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The article says that 60% pay over half their pay for housing and 20% run out of food each month. Let's assume that 3/4 of the average worker's pay goes to room and board. Using the 12 hour day, 6 days a week model that I believe was common back in the day, that would mean a minimum wage employee would have $177 pre-tax income after room and board. Compared to the $235 per week, that is not as good, but as I pointed out, a cook was not the bottom-level job that would equate to minimum wage. If the 10 to 13 pounds for a scullery maid is accurate, that would mean the servant cleared $235 to $300 a year compared to something like $2,500 a year left over for the employee.

And the room the maid would have been given? A drafty attic room with little heat and no air conditioning? Bathroom downstairs and shared by 5 others?
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Old 12 December 2013, 08:28 PM
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I think the room the maid would be given varies widely based on the employer and the house.
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Old 12 December 2013, 11:37 PM
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All things being equal, GenYus, would there be really good options for places to live, for those servants who don't "live in"? I imagine that they'd probably have a drafty attic room and a landlord who didn't care about their safety. A/C was not an option, and shared bathrooms were the norm. But they wouldn't be running out of food....

My point is that it's difficult to compare as it isn't all equal. Imagine something a little more reasonable than a country estate like the one in, say, "The Remains of the Day". Imagine a smaller property - maybe 2 or 3 live-in workers. Their lot in life would probably be better in that situation, than living in a crowded inner-city.

IIRC, the census used to identify one's "class" by the number of domestic servants. I wonder if it differentiated between live-in, and live-out?
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Old 12 December 2013, 11:49 PM
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Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
A drafty attic room with little heat and no air conditioning? Bathroom downstairs and shared by 5 others?
My first apartment! I think you make a good point in that the median or even average servant would not be making anywhere near the recommended wage in "books on the etiquette of hiring servants". As Beachlife said, amenities would vary, but the long tail of an ordinary economic distribution would mean extremely low wages and poor living conditions for all but a few. It would be useful to have some better source of info than books on etiquette.
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Old 13 December 2013, 12:27 AM
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Realistically, today, how many people would TAKE a live-in job if it were offered?
There's SO much more freedom and clear boundaries when you come in, do your job, and walk away.
Acquaintances who are nannies complain about this all the time - frequently being in the position of being 'off-duty' but having the parents ask them to 'keep an ear out for the kids while the we go out for the evening'

I can't imagine the hells it would be to be a live-in domestic cleaner.
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Old 13 December 2013, 12:35 AM
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Good point, ganzfeld--what's written in etiquette books is often the high-water mark for how people are supposed to but only sometimes do treat each other; most people fall short, hence the need for the book in the first place. I've yet to see an etiquette book advise, say, covering your genitals when you go out in public or following other similarly universal customs.
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Old 13 December 2013, 01:34 AM
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Also remember in 1910 a maid would have been cleaning a house without the benefit of vacuum cleaners, washers and dryers, dishwashers, floor cleaning machines, and a variety of very good cleaning products. I've cleaned houses as a second job ($10.00/hr) and while it was hard work, at least I was vacuuming the carpets instead of taking them outside and beating them clean.

Having said that, I do believe the vast majority of "servants" in today's America are woefully underpaid by the corporations that employ them. Seeing the stirrings of civil unrest and the slow rise in demands for union representation does my heart good.
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Old 13 December 2013, 01:52 AM
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I would imagine, too, that "live-in" jobs would clearly not be available to everyone. For example, it would only really appeal to "single" women, as it would severely limit the social life of a woman - especially a young woman, who would not be able to receive potential suitors, nor would I imagine that an employer would act as the era-appropriate chaperone. I imagine that widows, spinsters, and women whose children were living with others, would be the candidates here. For men, there would be more freedom but still, their life would be centered around their work. Leave or holiday would probably not be available, and I would imagine that many men did this kind of work as "transient" work. It really wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have live-in farm hands, seasonal or permanent, for a very long time, and not just in the last 100 years.

Even today, I can't imagine too many people looking at "live-in" domestic jobs as a means of permanent employment. Even professional nannies would move on once children got beyond a certain age - so it still isn't permanent but "serial" employment in the same industry.
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Old 13 December 2013, 02:55 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hero_Mike View Post
All things being equal, GenYus, would there be really good options for places to live, for those servants who don't "live in"? I imagine that they'd probably have a drafty attic room and a landlord who didn't care about their safety. A/C was not an option, and shared bathrooms were the norm. But they wouldn't be running out of food....

My point is that it's difficult to compare as it isn't all equal.
That was kind of my point. The article compared the pay back then to the pay now and concluded that the servant back then had it better as they made the same amount of money and had room and board. My point was that, in addition to the issue with the salaries not being for comparable jobs, the room that they'd have had would not be even close to what the average person rents. It is like saying how the average car today costs 10 times the average car back in 1940 without noting how the average car today is 100 times as reliable and 1,000 times a safe.
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Old 14 December 2013, 08:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Hero_Mike View Post
I would imagine, too, that "live-in" jobs would clearly not be available to everyone. For example, it would only really appeal to "single" women, as it would severely limit the social life of a woman - especially a young woman, who would not be able to receive potential suitors, nor would I imagine that an employer would act as the era-appropriate chaperone. I imagine that widows, spinsters, and women whose children were living with others, would be the candidates here. For men, there would be more freedom but still, their life would be centered around their work. Leave or holiday would probably not be available, and I would imagine that many men did this kind of work as "transient" work. It really wouldn't be out of the ordinary to have live-in farm hands, seasonal or permanent, for a very long time, and not just in the last 100 years.

Even today, I can't imagine too many people looking at "live-in" domestic jobs as a means of permanent employment. Even professional nannies would move on once children got beyond a certain age - so it still isn't permanent but "serial" employment in the same industry.
Sometimes couples or entire families would work as servants in the same household.
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Old 31 December 2013, 11:59 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by marrya View Post
Realistically, today, how many people would TAKE a live-in job if it were offered?
There's SO much more freedom and clear boundaries when you come in, do your job, and walk away.
Acquaintances who are nannies complain about this all the time - frequently being in the position of being 'off-duty' but having the parents ask them to 'keep an ear out for the kids while the we go out for the evening'

I can't imagine the hells it would be to be a live-in domestic cleaner.
If it's any comfort, marrya, I used to have live-in domestic staff (including a housemaid) and I believe that they were happy with their employment.

That said, I do try, as an employer, to behave like Mr Fezziwig.
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