Hi Maddie here! We are in the wake of the Massachusetts legal ruling of au pairs as domestic workers. I find myself thinking about how much I pay my au pair. Sure, we cover her room and board. We are also generous beyond the requirements of the program. We pay for her cell phone bill and personal use of the car, among other things. But is the $195.75 per week really fair? My husband and I have decided that our au pair deserves a raise.
Keep in mind their are many ways to reward your au pair even if this is not the right time to give your au pair a raise.
I’m giving my au pair a raise because the Au Pair Stipend has not been adjusted for inflation
Currently our au pair receives $200 per week in stipend. We came to this number by rounding the minimum weekly au pair stipend of $195.75 up to an easy number. This is the same amount our first au pair made in 2013. In fact, the minimum stipend amount for au pairs has been the same since 2009!
Have you ever wondered how the US Department of State came up with $195.75 as the minimum weekly stipend for au pairs? It’s because that’s 60% of the federal minimum wage for a 45-hour work week. The idea being that the missing 40% was deducted for room and board expenses. Also, the federal minimum wage was set at $7.25 per hour in 2009 and has not been updated since.
$7.25/hour x 45 hours/week = $326.25/week
Then deducting 40% from the minimum wage: $326.25/week x 0.6 = $195.75/week
The reality is that a dollar in 2009 could buy a lot more than it can today. Even if you consider the stipend to be pocket money for an au pair to spend having fun, it is no longer enough.
“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, today’s prices in 2019 are 19.89% higher than average prices since 2009. The U.S. dollar experienced an average inflation rate of 1.83% per year during this period, meaning the real value of a dollar decreased.” Source: CPI Inflation Calculator
This means that $200 in 2009 is equal in purchasing power to about $240 in 2019.
I’m giving my au pair a raise because I live in a high cost of living area
I live in the state of Washington outside the city of Seattle. As of January 1st, 2020 the minimum wage will be $13.50/hour. Unlike Massachusetts, Washington State exempts live-in employees from overtime. Although SENATE BILL 6247 aims to bring additional protections, including overtime pay, to domestic workers in the state of Washington starting in July 2021.
So, if our au pair was considered a domestic worker under the current law we would pay her Washington state minimum wage of $13.50 per hour. For the maximum of 45 hours she would make $607.50 per week. This is before room and board deductions.
$13.50/hour x 45 hours/week = $607.50/week
Now, let’s look at the deductions for room and board. Massachusetts limits this deduction to $77 per week. Washington state does not have this limitation.
There are two possible ways to calculate the room and board deductions. First, I will use the 40% deduction from the State Department for au pairs. Second, I will take the estimated cost of room and board for my area into account.
Room and board deductions at 40% of wages
Using the 40% deduction from the Department of State, the au pair minimum wage in my area would be $8.10/hour.
$13.50/hour x 0.4 = $5.40/hour deduction for room and board
$13.50/hour – $5.40/hour = $8.10/ hour
This means that if our au pair works 45 hours her wage after deductions for room and board will be $364.50/week. At 24 hours per week or less she would make the minimum stipend of $195.75 required by the Department of State.
$8.10/hour x 45 hours = $364.50/week
Room and board deductions at estimated costs
Looking at Craigslist and Roomates.com the cost of renting a room in my area ranges from $800 to $1500 per month. Conservatively, rooms comparable to our au pair’s room rent for about $1200/ month. Our au pair has a large furnished room with a walk-in closet, a private bathroom, and her own entrance.
According to smartasset.com the monthly recommended food spending for a Seattle resident is $399.69. This is nearly $75 more per month than the $324.20 national average.
Combined, the room and board estimates for my area work out to about $1600/month or $369/week.
$1200/month + $400/month = $1600/month
($1600/month x 12 months) / 52 weeks = $369/week
This means that if our au pair works 45 hours her wage after deductions for room and board will be about $238/week. At 42 hours per week or less she would make the minimum stipend of $195.75 required by the Department of State.
$607.50/week – $369/week for room and board = $238.50/week
(I also double checked these deduction estimates against the Living wage Calculator from MIT for King County Washington. MIT estimates typical food expenses at $3,573 per year and housing expenses at $16,356 per year for a single adult. Combined, this works out to $383 per week which is $14 higher than the $369 per week calculated using the method above.)
I’m giving my au pair a raise because she deserves it
The bottom line is that I’m giving my au pair a raise because she deserves it. She works hard! Everyday she goes above and beyond what I expect.
My au pair is great at the basics. She is always on time and often early. I never have to worry about regular tasks like the children’s laundry. The lunches are always packed and the homework always done. It is so nice to come home at the end of a long day to my clean, happy babies. She knows when the evenings will be especially busy so she plans ahead. Then she finds time to surprise me!
I love to come home to gifts from my children. Sometimes it is art projects they created for me. Other times it is a homemade dessert or a cookie from the bakery. It is always special and appreciated.
What do you think?
Do you think au pairs should make a higher stipend? Have you considered giving your au pair a raise? Let us know in the comments below or reach out to My Au Pair and Me Host Family Community on Facebook. It’s nice to talk to other host families and know you’re not alone!