LIFE IN THE TIME OF THE CORONAVIRUS

My Rich Boss Wanted to Pay Me Off the Books. Now I Can’t Get Unemployment.

Some wealthy New York families escaped the city to ride out the pandemic in the Hamptons, leaving childcare workers out of a job and with few options

Life in the Time of the Coronavirus is a GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

This anonymous 30-year-old from New York City worked as a nanny for two separate families before the coronavirus outbreak. In March, she lost both of her jobs after the city went into lockdown, and one of her families opted to shelter-in-place at their second home in the Hamptons. The nanny was primarily paid in cash, meaning she is unable to prove her job status and is therefore ineligible for unemployment benefits.

I’ve nannied for about 10 years now. I started when I was in college as a part-time thing to get the bills paid. After college, it turned into a full-time job. It was harder for me to explore other options at the time because the money was really good. I don’t want to say I’m stuck, but it has kind of been the same routine for the last 10 years.

Until recently, I had two nannying jobs: I’d been with my last family for four years and the other for three. The more demanding family was located in Manhattan. They were down-to-earth but still very wealthy, and their expectations of me were way too much. Most of the time, I would handle two kids by myself; I was responsible for pickup, drop-off, managing their schedules, doing errands for the mom, cooking for them, and sometimes even for the whole family. Then there were the little things I would do for them, just to be generous, that would somehow turn into another job. One time, I made them a green juice from a recipe I found, and then I was expected to make it for them every week.

That job was 40 hours but only half of my week. I also had a side job because I needed the pay. This other family had a completely different style. They live in Brooklyn. The mom is almost my friend at this point. She also has two kids, but it was a totally different vibe where my presence was more respected than with the Manhattan family.

It sounds so bad to say it like this — I love the Manhattan family and the kids — but it was almost a relief to go to the Brooklyn family on the other days. I still performed the same way as I did at the Manhattan job, but the vibe was different. It definitely was a challenge working for both families and then noticing the difference between the two, but I managed to make it work. Well, before the coronavirus.

On March 16, I didn’t go into work. The Manhattan family has a house in the Hamptons, as any wealthy city family does, and they were just going for a weekend. I thought, “Oh, this is going to be over in about two weeks tops, and the families are going on spring break, and I’ll be fine.” Now it’s almost been two months. I was supposed to go to the Hamptons and work, but the family obviously didn’t want me to because they were scared I was a carrier for the virus. Last minute, they said, “No, actually don’t come. But because you’re not going to come, we’re only going to compensate you up until X date.” And then that was it.

This week was the last they were compensating me. I completely get it, and I understand it’s hard. I went to their house in Manhattan and got a couple of things they needed, not really essentials, but clothes and things for the kids and their mail. Then I shipped it to their house in the Hamptons. They did offer me to get an Uber to the apartment and back — after I asked them to. Now that I think about it, I should have never agreed to do those errands in the first place. I felt I had to because they were paying me still and I was not working.

The Brooklyn family has been way more supportive; they understand this is my livelihood. They’re still compensating me, and it’s been great. I obviously don’t come into work, but the mom understands she can’t stop paying me because what else am I going to do?

I was supposed to go to the Hamptons and work, but the family obviously didn’t want me to because they were scared I was a carrier for the virus.

Life before the coronavirus was still a hard life. I worked almost 50 to 60 hours a week, some weeks more. It was bad. But the uncertainty is really hard right now. I’m applying to jobs, but it’s hard to find something else in this environment. Nobody is really hiring.

I was paid off the books, so I can’t apply for unemployment. It’s not just me. There are a million other people who can’t apply for unemployment. It’s not that I’m undocumented; I just haven’t worked on the books. It’s a real gray area, especially for domestic workers. I think it’s mostly the employer’s fault. The family is ultimately supposed to pay for your taxes. If they were willing to pay and have their staff on the books, then the employee would be above board. I don’t think there is any negative factor in having your taxes taken out. Ultimately it is the employers who don’t want to do it. They don’t want to spend extra money on top of what they are paying their employees. It sucks, but it is what it is.

I’m finally figuring out I can’t keep on doing it like this because it doesn’t really help me in the end. I don’t have anything to show for it; I only have a resume. I’ve done all this work and physical labor, but what it really comes down to is this: I don’t have any security. I’m still grateful for being compensated during this time, but I need to be able to survive without the pay I was planning on getting for the next month. There’s absolutely no way I can pay full rent.

My roommates and I organized a rent freeze. Our landlord didn’t really want to help us out, but the best we could do was pay what we could for April. And I think that’s the way it’s going to be for May. I don’t have a lot of options right now as far as what is the next step. But overall, I have interviews, and I am pushing myself to apply to more things. So I do feel hopeful but definitely worried about how I’m going to survive for the next month.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Editor/writer. Words in GEN, The Atlantic, Glamour, The Intercept, MSNBC, NBC News, NYT, Vice, Vox, and more.

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