Cheap Cleans

In the US, housecleaning is big business. Second generation immigrants hire new ones to do the dirty work for a song. The color of help in America has changed over the decades. In the early 20th century, after the Civil War of course, eastern Europeans downed the caps and aprons first followed by African Americans and then Latinos. Now you have Asians from Southeast Asia with countries like Vietnam. It is all about the melting pot in the US, but it is not the same in foreign countries. Spanish and Portuguese housecleaners still dominate in northern Europe, while poor Slavs fill the bill in Russia. Little has changed in the last fifty years.

When you travel to second and third world countries, for example, you immediately see places that use their own native people, and those who rely on immigrants. It is a matter of numbers, of supply and demand. Whatever the case, we are talking about cheap cleans. Wages are dismal, worse than the US which at least has a minimum wage (not that it is always employed, mind you). Payment is by the job or by the hour and it is very low. Children can be exploited by parents who need supplemental income in the family. Kids as young as nine or ten can wash dishes, sweep floors, and clean toilets. It is appalling, but true. Not much can and will be done. When labour is so cheap, there’s no point spending hundreds of dollars to buy one of the best robot vacuum cleaners when you can pay someone a few dollars an hour using a cheap, basic vacuum cleaner.

Cleaning is a universal requirement. It is not relegated to private homes as in the US and Canada. It is not just found in hotels and office buildings. It is everywhere. Either you clean your own environment or you hire another person to do it. It’s that simple. It developing countries, it no doubt falls to the family in equal amounts, children included. Even the family dog may have chores! In resorts, tourists will see members of the local population in the fancier hotels, and they are lucky indeed; but in rural areas, the segment of society drops down. It is akin to slave labor; and even though there is payment, it is subsistent to be sure.

Cheap cleans are taken for granted but they can be unfair. They keep people in a certain social class from which they can’t get out. On the other hand, these people may not have access to other jobs. They may not read and write; they may not have proper clothes and transportation; they may not have any of the skills required to move up.

So don’t be judgmental if you can. You don’t have to admire how cleaning is handled in other countries, and you no doubt are grateful for it as a tourist. Exploitation is a tough concept to deal with. It is an economic fact of life. It is akin to sweat shops in the clothing industry which flourishes at others’ expense. Tip well in the hotel, my friend. It may be the only significant money your housekeeper will see that day.