2:05am

Thu March 29, 2012
Planet Money

The $200,000-A-Year Nanny

I met Zenaide Muneton in the offices of the Pavillion Agency in New York, which specializes in hiring house staff for some of the richest folks in the country. Muneton says she knows how to make everything fun for kids, even homework, and that's why she is one of the better paid nannies at the agency. I asked her what that means.

"It means over $150,000 a year," Muneton said.

Actually, I learned later, it means even more than $150,000 a year. Her last job paid $180,000 and included a free apartment on Central Park West, a generous food stipend, and enough perks and benefits to bring her total income closer to $250,000 a year. That's eight times the salary of an average nanny.

Cliff Greenhouse, who runs the nanny business for Pavillion, says they interview hundreds of potential nannies to see who can meet the requirements of the wealthiest families. Their standards are, of course, exacting.

"We only place maybe 3 or 4 percent of those that we interview," Greenhouse said.

That selection rate makes the Pavillion Agency a notch choosier than Harvard. So what exactly does it take to become a Pavillion nanny?

Greenhouse says all their nannies are good with kids and have perfect references and no criminal records. That's just the basic stuff. They also need other special skills. One got a job because he knew how to drive a Zamboni around the family's private skating rink. Another family would only hire a nanny capable of ferrying passengers on a 32-foot-long motor boat to a private island. But perhaps the hottest skill these days is the ability to make friends with other well-placed nannies.

Greenhouse said, "A lot of families, especially new money, are really concerned about their children getting close to other very affluent children. How do they do that? They find a superstar nanny who already has lots of other nanny friends who work with other high-profile families, and there you have it."

The biggest thing these high-end nannies are selling is their entire lives. One of the perks of great wealth is never having to worry about other people's schedules. Rich families that pay six figures to a nanny can go to dinner or fly off to Europe on a moment's notice. They don't call the nanny to make sure she (they are usually women) is free.

Laurin Green, another top-level nanny, says her friends gave up on making plans with her because she would always cancel.

"The hardest thing for me is canceling on people," Green explained. "With the families that I work for, it's a constant."

She told the folks at Pavillion Agency that she, rather surprisingly, is looking for a job that pays less money.

Green said, "My goal for this next job is $85,000. My last job with overtime, I was making well over $100,000 a year, but i had no personal life with that position."

For any nervous parents out there who can't afford these high-paid nannies, do not fear. I did call some child development experts who made very clear that the high cost of elite nannies does not, in any way, imply better care for your kids.

If you're willing to hire a nanny who actually has a life and can't introduce your kids to the children of the rich and powerful, you can have a great one for a more reasonable amount.

This radio story was produced as a companion piece to Adam Davidson's New York Times Magazine column, "The Best Nanny Money Can Buy."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The average nanny makes about $30,000 a year, but in New York City, there is an elite corps of nannies who make much, much more. And it's a bizarre micro economy where you don't necessarily get what you pay for. Adam Davidson from the Planet Money team has this report.

ADAM DAVIDSON, BYLINE: I'm sitting in a conference room with Zenaide Muneton, a short, middle-aged, Brazilian immigrant. We're talking, sort of seriously, and then I ask her, why is she one of the best nannies in the business. Instantly, she transforms. She has this huge smile. She says she knows how to make everything fun, even homework.

ZENAIDE MUNETON: I say, come on let's do the homework first because after that we can put a play together. We'll get all dressed up, and I dressed up with them.

DAVIDSON: This joyful ease with kids has a surprisingly huge market value. I'm meeting Muneton in the offices of the Pavillion Agency in New York, which specializes in placing house staff with the richest folks in the country.

And they told me you're one of the better paid nannies.

MUNETON: Yes, I am.

DAVIDSON: Yeah, so what does that mean, like...

MUNETON: It means over $150,000 a year.

DAVIDSON: Actually, I learned later, it's a lot more than $150,000 a year. Her last job paid $180,000 and it included an apartment on Central Park West, rent-free, a generous food stipend, and bonuses and perks that brought her total income closer to $250,000 a year. That's eight times the salary of the average nanny.

Cliff Greenhouse, who runs the nanny business for Pavillion, says all their nannies are good with kids, they have perfect references, no criminal records. That's just the basic stuff. They also need other special skills. One nanny, a man actually, got a job because he knew how to drive a Zamboni, and the family had a private ice rink.

Another family would only hire a nanny capable of ferrying passengers on a 32-foot-long motor boat to a private island. But perhaps the hottest skill these days is the ability to make friends with other well-placed nannies.

CLIFF GREENHOUSE: A lot of families, especially new money, are really concerned about their children getting close to other very affluent children. How do they do that? They find a superstar nanny who already has lots of other nanny friends who work with other high-profile families, and there you have it.

DAVIDSON: This is crazy, really.

GREENHOUSE: That is, and that's a phenomenon that I see quite frequently.

DAVIDSON: The biggest thing these high-end nannies are selling is their entire lives. One of the perks of great wealth is never having to worry about other people's schedules. Rich families that pay six figures to a nanny, they just go to dinner if they feel like it or out to the airport, get in their jet and fly off to Europe. They don't check to see if the nanny is free. The nanny better be free.

Laurin Green, another top-level nanny, says her friends gave up on making plans with her because she would always, always cancel.

LAURIN GREEN: The hardest thing for me is canceling on people. And it's - at this level with the families that I work for, it's a constant. It happens all the time. And it's - I've learned to deal with it, but it is very difficult for me, because in my own life I would never stand people up or cancel appointments 10 times before we make it to the doctor's office. But, again, it kind of happens in this circle.

DAVIDSON: She told the folks at Pavillion Agency that she, rather surprisingly for a time like this, is looking for a job that pays less money.

GREEN: My goal for this next job is $85,000. My last job with overtime, I was making well over $100,000 a year, but I had no personal life with that position.

DAVIDSON: For any nervous parents out there who can't afford these high-paid nannies, do not fear. I did call some child development experts who reassured me, the high cost of elite nannies does not, in any way, imply better care for your kids.

If you're willing to hire a nanny who actually has a life and can't introduce your kids to the children of the rich and powerful, you can still have a great one for a far more reasonable amount.

Adam Davidson, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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