Marisela Maddox is no stranger to the nanny game, having hired at-home caregivers in the past to help with her two children, ages 5 and 10.
In the early pandemic days, the Austin family managed without one, working and quarantining from home. But around June, when the national conversation about education started to lean toward online public schools, "I was starting to get very nervous," Maddox said.
So she looked for someone who could work full time and be ready to help with the education of her fourth-grader, who she assumed would be doing school entirely online.
That's when she learned that the market, the candidates, the health considerations and—most notably—the cost of hiring someone to be around your kids all day is a lot different now in the days of unpredictable and fast-changing school, work and money situations, than it was in the pre-COVID era.
When she hired a grad student in his late 20s, she said, the two other finalists were immediately hired by friends—a sign of the tight market that she hadn't seen before.
Maddox is paying 20% more than she used to—$25 an hour, up from the typical $20 rate—just to make sure the nanny was willing to stick with the family through such uncertain times. While her older child ended up returning to school, Maddox has kept the nanny around in the case that schools shutdown again.
"I think you have to pay more. I really do," said Maddox, a mediator and small business owner. "You have to incentivize people to want to stay because you really don't want to be doing this every three or four months."
Several employers and families said that pay has risen for several reasons: the influx of and demand for higher-paid educators into the nanny market, the instability of work and school schedules, the higher demands placed on caregivers and fear of COVID-19 all brought on by the pandemic.
The need for nannies, the availability of them and the ability to pay for them has risen and fallen as virus conditions and shutdowns have fluctuated throughout the summer, said Amber Mayhew, an Austin mom and nanny, and owner of Nanny Poppinz, a referral service she has operated in Austin for about a decade.
"In March, which is usually a very busy time of year for us, business stopped for a couple of months," she said. "And then it kind of picked up for a little bit, and then we kind of had the second flow of everyone panicking it seemed like, and so it slowed down again. And now it's starting to pick up again."
Along with the unstable market, families whose children are doing online school are looking for people who are more qualified in education or technology, and many of the candidates are now former educators or daycare workers who were laid off or worried about teaching in-person classes at public schools.
There is also less job stability because pandemic-era shutdowns, quarantines and COVID-19 infections put family needs in flux as schedules shift to accommodate school and work changes. And everything can shut down if a family member or the nanny gets sick and the nanny can't come into the home for weeks or months.
And the stakes are higher when it comes to health considerations. Families and nannies have to put a lot of trust in each other not to engage in behavior that could put one or both of them at risk.
"We've been very conservative in how much we've been leaving the house, and canceled all our vacations this summer, no road trips or anything, so the idea of having someone in our house was a little scary," said Austin mom Jeni Putalavage-Ross, who, after a difficult search, hired the daughter of a trusted friend to help with her 8-year-old and twin 6-year-olds.
All of this not only drives up the price, but it can make the overall experience more trying—both for the parents and for the providers.
"It can be done, but it requires more resources," Maddox said. "I had to do a lot of self checking. We had a lot of conversations around it. But I think it'll be OK. Everybody's sort of figuring it out right now."
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