Essential and Expendable: Migrant Domestic Workers and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Kritika Pandey, Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, Gianne Sheena Sabio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


In this article, we examine the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the labor conditions of domestic workers in the epicenter of the United States. We focus our analysis on the symbolic categorization of domestic work as “essential labor.” While domestic workers are lauded as heroes in public discourse, we argue that this symbolic recognition does not extend to material remuneration. Instead, we find that labor conditions better fit their categorization as expendable essential workers, meaning those whose essential labor is magnified during the pandemic but whose work remains materially undervalued. Data used in this article draw from observations of more than 30 hours of virtual town hall meetings on the pandemic hosted by migrant domestic worker advocacy groups in Los Angeles and New York.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1287-1301
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Behavioral Scientist
Issue number10
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Cultural Studies
  • Education
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • General Social Sciences


  • domestic work
  • elderly care
  • essential workers
  • migrant labor


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