America’s New Servant Class

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In America, many people still think of household servants as something belonging to a distant age, a time less equal and democratic than our own, like the Britain of Downton Abbey. But as we’ve entered a second Gilded Age, the clock seems to be turning back, and the super-rich are increasingly relying on servants to feed, clothe and make them comfy. The economic “recovery” is not producing nearly enough jobs, but the servant sector is certainly growing.

Agencies are swamped with calls for butlers, chefs, drivers and other staff. What’s a private jet without your own flight attendant? What’s a yacht without a massage therapist? According to Claudia Kahn, founder of a Los Angeles-based a staffing agency, the rich are requesting “Downton Abbey-type service” to match what they see on TV. She notes that a housekeeper for a zillionaire may earn up to $60,000 a year (the industry median salary is less than $20,000), but a “lady’s maid” can take in $75,000. Full-time butlers can earn $70,000 a year, and some who travel around with a family on yachts or private jets could earn as much as $200,000 a year.

Vincent Minuto, who caters to wealthy clients in the Hamptons, recommends one housekeeper for every 3,000 square feet of space. If you are timeshare mogul David Siegel, you’ll need at least 16 maids for your 50,000-square-foot home in Windermere, Florida.

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