Mythago sent me a link to a recent Ethicist and it’s a darkly funny reminder of how Americans have the most fucked up attitudes about hiring what we’re loathe to call servants.
A woman I hired to do simple gardening comes weekly and, when school is out, brings her kids. While her twin preschoolers play in the shade, her approximately 9-year-old daughter works alongside her. I am uncomfortable watching my 8- and 11-year-old boys kicking a soccer ball as the girl walks past pushing a wheelbarrow. Should I ask the mother to keep her daughter from working? Should I not employ this woman? — JANE E., ALBUQUERQUE
Classic American approach to uncomfortable class differences—out of sight, out of mind. (Jane finds an excuse to fire her gardener, albeit for a fair reason, which is she failed to show up for work.) At least Randy Cohen tries gently to point out the obvious, which is that if poverty makes you uncomfortable, you shouldn’t exacerbate it by depriving someone of a source of income.
There’s a simple solution to the problem of servant guilt. Pay up. In this case, she should be paying at least $13 an hour, according to the Universal Living Wage formula. If you can afford to have someone clean your house or your garden, you can afford to pay them the ULW. It’s worth the money not to be slinking around, feeling guilty.