Nannies No Longer Rule the Roost

Parents Regain Economic Power to Be Picky in Hiring Help
In Washington Post

By Annie Gowen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 14, 2009

One Potomac mother of five used to prepare for interviews with prospective nannies like a Hollywood audition. She cleaned her house, made sure the children were quietly coloring and “glamified” the family’s lifestyle, which includes regular trips overseas. She capped off talks with a tour of an au pair suite so deluxe it was mentioned in a glossy home magazine.

This year, the pressure is off. When she recently posted an ad online for a new nanny, she was inundated with responses from qualified candidates and unemployed women seeking a job, any job. She ended up hiring a nanny agency to vet candidates.

A fundamental shift of power has occurred in Washington in recent months, and it has nothing to do with politics. For decades, good nannies were a hot commodity in a town rife with workaholics, where the percentage of working women is higher than the national average. The best nannies had to be snapped up immediately and kept happy with regular raises and other benefits, lest they be poached right off the playground by conniving parents.

In the past six to eight months, though, agencies report a deluge of available nannies as parents losing their jobs or downsizing turn to cheaper child-care options, including staying at home. Neighborhood e-mail lists are bristling with parents posting jobs for their former nannies. (“Dream nanny available immediately!”) Real-life Mary Poppinses who once had their pick of jobs are finding themselves out of work for weeks, or months, at a time.

Parents have more choices, and some are thrilled about it.

“Before, I felt like they were interviewing us. . . . Now, I’ll be in the driver’s seat,” said Lesley Kalan, a consultant from Alexandria who is seeking a nanny for her three children.

Lorna Spencer, co-owner of A Choice Nanny in Columbia, said that her business is down 50 percent in the past year and that the number of out-of-work nannies she is trying to place has doubled. Spencer used to have 10 qualified candidates to send to families; now she has 20 or more.

“We’re finding a lot of parents getting laid off, and they have to let the nannies go,” she said. “We have many nannies desperate for work . . . calling us every day.”

Even in good times, nannies have little job security and work for relatively low wages. A nanny in the Washington area makes about $16 an hour, according to a survey by the International Nanny Association. About 13 percent of nannies across the country reported being unemployed last year, up from 8 percent in 2006, according to association estimates.

Liz Caceres, 34, of Rockville lost her nanny job with a District family earlier this year after the father was laid off, she said. She returned from Christmas vacation and learned that the family wanted to slash her hours to one day a week.

Finding another position was tough, Caceres said. She placed an ad online but did not receive a single call. After a month, however, she was able to network her way to new employment through some babysitting connections.

During boom times, nannies had their pick of positions and handsome benefits, according to Barbara Kline, president of White House Nannies, a placement agency in Bethesda.

“I’ve heard nannies deliberate between a swimming pool and a Lexus, between a month of paid vacation and a trip to Europe with the family,” Kline wrote in “White House Nannies: True Tales from the Other Department of Homeland Security,” her 2005 memoir. “Stock options and signing bonuses were also common nanny lures.”

Most of those perks evaporated as the economy faltered, Kline said.

Nannies and nanny agencies report that the power shift appears to have gone to some parents’ heads. Prospective employers are offering some candidates salaries well below average and pushing them to handle additional tasks such as housecleaning. Some families have tried to deduct “rent” from live-in nannies’ salaries — unheard of before the economic downturn, according to Debra Weiss, director of placement services for Staffing Solutions@Mothers’ Aides in Fairfax Station.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Ali Burket, 28, a government affairs specialist in Alexandria who is giving up her nanny in favor of cheaper day care but is trying to help the nanny find another job. “When we hired our nanny a year ago, the difference was like night and day. The nannies were setting the terms, and it was very much a seller’s market. Now my poor nanny can’t find a job.”

One woman wanted to pay the nanny $300 a week to care for two children and do all the housework. “It’s insulting,” Burket said. “Her attitude was like, ‘You should be happy with what you get because of the economy.’ “

Jaclyn Gobuluk, owner of Metropolitan Nannies in Herndon, said that in the past six months, she has noticed that some parents make clear their preference for a college-educated, American nanny, even if the hire has less child-rearing experience than an immigrant nanny might have. Most do not say it directly, Gobuluk says.

“They want American nannies now. . . . They feel like there are so many choices out there, they’re going to be really picky and that’s the best choice for their children,” Gobuluk said. “I had one client who said, ‘My child doesn’t like anybody with brown hair. Find somebody with blond hair.’ I’m like, ‘Hmm. Your child doesn’t like somebody, or you don’t like somebody, with brown hair?’ We want people to be comfortable, but that’s pushing it.”

When a former employer of nanny Karen Taylor recently posted a job-search note on her behalf on a private school e-mail list, she described Taylor as “the closest person we have ever met to Mary Poppins.”

Taylor, 39, a Fairfax County resident, has 21 years of local experience, makes double the going hourly rate and attended nanny school — graduating from the American Nanny Plan in Claremont, Calif., two decades ago.

But since losing her job seven months ago — the single father who employed her was downsizing — she has had trouble finding another position.

Family and friends have helped her with living expenses, but it is scary, she said, because “I have no safety net.”

“This is the worst I’ve ever seen it,” Taylor said. “We’re all kind of surprised at how long it’s taking” to find work.

Kalan, the mother from Alexandria, describes the luxury of having many candidates to choose from after the birth of son Cooper this spring. She recalls once having to settle for a nanny who did not drive.

Now she expects to hire someone who can not only drive but speak Spanish and English fluently, someone who is good with her newborn and able to engage the two older children.

Kalan’s dream nanny is someone who would be “in our yard blowing bubbles with my 4-year-old, helping them set up the kiddie pool, having tea parties with my daughter and playing school. . . . My list of demands is getting a little longer now,” she said.


  1. My salary continues to increase and I got a great raise and end of year bonus this year. For the parents that have secure jobs they are not all using the economic recession as an excuse not to give raises or pay well.If parents want great nannies they still pay well despite the economic recession.I agree with article that this is not a good time to leave a job and get picky about pet-peeves at a job. We all need to remain humble, work hard, and start saving money if we can.But, it isn't all gloom and doom. I work hard, so do my employer parents, and they compensate me well for my hard work. They are being much more than fair.If parents want to keep a nanny they need to compensate them well just like always.But nannies should keep reading articles like this to remind us to save and work hard to keep our jobs and prepare in case our employers lose thiers.

  2. It is really sad so many unemployed. But parents looking for jobs can't lay off their caregivers.

  3. Sadly this article is what I am experiencing to the tee. I've tried so hard to build my knowledge in childcare and become one of the best nannies. It's extremly frustrating that the economy has taken the nanny profession back 10+ years once again.

  4. Well parents should not fire nannies too quickly after losing jobs. To really search full time for a nanny job parents need caregivers watching their children. The American economy needs mothers and fathers working. Most of my friends still have their jobs, most haven't even worked less hours, even when the parents have had to find new jobs. So, just keep saving and be thankful everyday you can work.Professional Nanny Tonya

  5. As the owner of a prominent, national Nanny Placement agency, I have seen a drop in the number new postions and nanny salaries have dropped 10-20% as a result. We have also seen a 300+% in "Nanny-Share" arrangements between two families.It is my hope this article, and this job environment does not result in families taking advantage of their nanny. If you want to KEEP a great nanny who has her focus on the care, supervision and development of your child, you will NOT be looking for a nanny who will be "on call", a "nanny-housekeeper", or a "nanny-slave".It is true, the top nanny/governesses are no longer in the driver's seat in negotiations, but this should not result in families taking advantage of a child care professional. Despite this economy, these nannies will eventually leave those positions as soon as possible.

  6. What good does it do a parent or their children to hire the cheapest caregiver? The saying goes, "You get what you pay for." Despite the economic recession employees will still take the highest paying jobs they are offered.Even during an economic recession parents ought to respect and fairly compensate those they hire to care for their most precious children. If parents mistreat or disrespect their nannies (daycare workers, babysitters, housekeepers, dog walkers, chef, or anyone) they will create a scornful caregiver who will look for a better job. We are all aware of the economic recession. A nanny that has been treated with respect, paid a good salary, and provided proper benefits will be more than willing to reduce a few hours, forgo a raise for a few months, and take on a few additional chores if a parent loses a job. Nannies are human too. In fact, nannies tend to be emotional, loving, and loyal to good employers. Most nannies are more than willing to pitch-in and help out when treated respectfully. But, nannies also have to take care of themselves. If parents start taking advantage of their employees they will undoubtedly create scornful employees. The frustration and anger the nanny feels may eventually affect the care they provide the children. The article in the "Washington Post" is a good reminder to nannies and parents to work hard and save money. But I want to remind parents to treat their employees as they would like to be treated. If they do so, the caregiver may actually work harder during these difficult economic times because they will feel loyal to the parents who have treated them so well. Regardless of the economic stregth of the nation, if my employers start taking advantage of me I will start looking for a new job. Even if it takes me longer to find a job these days, I want to work for parents that respect me and make a decent wage. For parents hoping to pay less during the economic recession just remember "You get what you pay for!"

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