Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Ruth Milkman

Committee Members

Stephanie Luce

James M. Jasper

Janice Fine

Subject Categories

Gerontology | Politics and Social Change | Public Policy | Social Policy | Sociology | Work, Economy and Organizations


domestic work, home care, home health, aging, care policy


In the United States, population aging has driven explosive growth in care-sector occupations, especially among low-wage home care aides who provide long-term assistance to older adults. These aides, predominantly women and disproportionately people of color, now represent one of the country’s largest and fastest-growing occupational groups. In recent decades, economic inequality and meager social policies have also spurred demand for nannies, housecleaners, and other domestic workers—occupations heavily reliant on immigrant women, many undocumented. While scholarly and public discourse has addressed labor shortages and job quality in such occupations, a related problem is the widespread violation of labor standards, including minimum wage and overtime laws. This regulatory issue is common across low-wage industries but is particularly acute when work takes place in atomized private homes.

This dissertation examines how state and non-state actors have pursued labor standards enforcement in such a challenging context, focusing on the efforts of government agencies, labor unions, and worker centers in New York City. Based on qualitative interviews and original survey data, I argue that these efforts produce important impacts—such as informing workers of their rights and resolving violations—but that progress is fundamentally constrained by the structure of the home care and domestic work industries. Current strategies are no match for the scale of employer noncompliance in this sector, even in places like New York, where the regulatory landscape is exceptionally robust. Broader impacts require changes to underlying industry structures. In the case of home care, this structure is a model of service provision that often relies on cash-strapped private agencies contracted under Medicaid. In domestic work, the structure is one of informality, extreme decentralization, and one-to-one employment relationships.

These findings contribute to the sociology of care work and the interdisciplinary field of workplace regulation. They reveal the limitations of regulatory theories and practices that treat industry structures as fixed instead of malleable, which may obscure core drivers of noncompliance. And they reinforce perspectives that underscore the relationship between industry structure and employer behavior. Yet the common assumption that the incidence of violations depends primarily on enforcement strategies may be incorrect. Instead, this dissertation argues that violations—and their reduction—may hinge on policy areas outside the direct control of labor regulators, such as social policy and immigration law.