Gardeners, Housekeepers Feeling Economic Pinch The troubled economy is hurting housekeepers and landscapers in California as homeowners' budgets are tightening. In some cases, gardeners have kept working, not realizing a resident has left and the home is in foreclosure.
NPR logo

Gardeners, Housekeepers Feeling Economic Pinch

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101056790/101056888" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Gardeners, Housekeepers Feeling Economic Pinch

Gardeners, Housekeepers Feeling Economic Pinch

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/101056790/101056888" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The troubled economy has prompted many people to forgo small luxuries - say, hiring someone to mow the grass or clean the house. As consumers trim their personal budgets, household helpers are often the first to go. As NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports, that's taking a big toll in places like Southern California.

(Soundbite of bus)

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Before the sun rises in Los Angeles, city buses fill with brigades of housekeepers and nannies on their way to work. Andrea Guaderama(ph) heads to west L.A. where she has spent 20 years caring for children and cleaning homes.

Ms. ANDREA GUADERAMA (housekeeper): (Foreign language spoken)

DEL BARCO: The 48 year old says spends her days scrubbing bathrooms, making beds, washing and ironing clothes for well-heeled attorneys, professors and movie producers. But she says some of her bosses lost money in the stock market, or have been laid off, so they've asked her to work fewer days.

Ms. GUADERAMA (housekeeper): (Foreign language spoken)

DEL BARCO: Guaderama says clients want her to work every 15 days, about twice a month, instead of every week. That means their houses get much dirtier, but she's not able to charge more to clean them. She gets $75 or $80 to clean an entire four- or five-bedroom house. Like many housekeepers, Guaderama struggles to send money home to her family in Mexico. But these days, she's had to cut back. She says other housekeepers she meets on the bus have it much worse.

Ms. GUADERAMA (housekeeper): (Foreign language spoken)

DEL BARCO: Some housekeepers get treated like slaves, she says. A few are physically abused by their bosses. Many are undocumented immigrants. For that reason, they're afraid to complain if they do get cheated or abused.

(Soundbite of lawn mower)

DEL BARCO: In the tony Pacific Palisades district, Ismael Alcaraz(ph) mows lawns, trims hedges and blows leaves for his clients. He's had his own gardening business for 27 years and he says he's never seen the economy so bad.

Mr. ISMAEL ALCARAZ (Gardener): Yeah, last month, I lost five customers. We got behind in our bills. I mean, the situation is kind of bad for us. Some of the people, they cut the service and (unintelligible). And, you know, (unintelligible) price. They want a lot of work for little pay, otherwise they hire somebody cheaper.

(Soundbite of lawn mower)

DEL BARCO: At one time, Alcaraz had six helpers. But he had to let four of them go. He says his business earns about $3,000 a month before taxes — money he splits with his workers. He scrapes together whatever he can to pay taxes and insurance, buy gasoline and make equipment repairs. Alcaraz has a wife and four children to support, including one son in college. Lately, his clients have been having a tough time, too.

Mr. ALCARAZ: They said they got no job right now. Plus, they got too much bills to pay and they can't afford to pay a gardener.

DEL BARCO: Alcaraz says some of his clients lost their homes to foreclosures and moved out without a word.

Mr. ALCARAZ: You know, sometimes we'll work for the whole month, and the peoples never showed up. They just go and never say goodbye.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DEL BARCO: Every morning, a group of housekeepers gathers at the Burger King across from UCLA. Before heading off to work, they chat about their husbands or sons being laid off and their own lost wages.

Ms. MARTA ESPINOSA(ph) (housekeeper): (Foreign language spoken)

DEL BARCO: Marta Espinosa says they have to find other ways of supplementing their housekeeping incomes. She tries by selling $6 jeans and $5 blouses.

(Soundbite of foreign language)

DEL BARCO: Since she doesn't have a business permit, Espinosa carries her merchandise through the streets in a suitcase. Other housekeepers sell homemade pupusas - Salvadoran stuffed tortillas. Teresa Navarette(ph) peddles musical greeting cards.

(Soundbite of music)

DEL BARCO: Lisia Quinones(ph) says she and other housekeepers are now looking for economic salvation in Washington.

Ms. LISIA QUINONES (Housekeeper): President Obama, I need help now.

Mandalit Del Barco, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.