Oscar Best-Picture-winner ‘Parasite’ isn’t just a Korean story — taking care of rich people is America’s hottest gig, too

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“Parasite” is about the tensions surrounding a lower-class family ingratiating their way into working personal service jobs for their wealthy patrons.
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Neon
  • “Parasite” won the Best Picture Oscar on Sunday, and the movie’s plot about the tensions between a lower-class family working as servants for a wealthy corporate executive and his famiy echoes a global trend.
  • “Wealth jobs,” or personal-care gigs that typically cater to wealthy clientele, are growing fast in the US, as well as other developed countries like South Korea.
  • A report from the Brookings Institution found that jobs like manicurists have doubled since 2010, and positions for fitness trainers opened twice as fast as the overall rate of job growth. The Atlantic first reported on this data.
  • The rise in “wealth work” comes as the richest Americans hoard a bigger share of the country’s wealth.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite” made history at the Academy Awards as the first foreign-language film to win a Best Picture Oscar, and one of the movie’s core themes points to a dramatic shift in the nature of work across the world.

The movie centers on tensions between a family of service workers and their wealthy patrons, and its themes of class conflict are certainly not limited to South Korea. Jobs providing personal care to the super-affluent are on the rise around the world, and particularly in the US.

Parasite” focuses on two South Korean families: the Kims, a lower-class family struggling to eke out a living, and the Parks, a wealthy corporate executive and his wife and children. One by one, the Kims take on service jobs for the Parks – tutoring the family’s children in English and art, driving an executive around Seoul, working as a cook and housekeeper – while hiding their family relationship from their wealthy patrons. The Kims come across a rather stunning household secret, leading to a wild conclusion that acts as an allegory for emerging problems of inequality.

The Los Angeles Times noted that several recent movies share themes of class conflict with “Parasite” – including other hits like “Knives Out,” “Joker,” and “Hustlers.” Dramatic and expanding gaps between the rich and poor have also been a staple of dystopian science fiction for years, underpinning movies like “The Hunger Games” and “Elysium.”

Inequality is a global – and American – story

Part of why movies like “Parasite” become such cultural phenomena could be the rise of an economy centered on working class people providing personal services to the wealthy.

“Wealth jobs,” or personal care jobs like childcare workers, private chefs, housekeepers, and massage therapists, have seen higher-than-average growth in the US since 2010, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

In fact, between 2010 and 2017, “the number of manicurists and pedicurists doubled, while the number of fitness trainers and skincare specialists grew at least twice as fast as the overall labor force,” the Atlantic’s Derek Thompson reported, citing the Brookings data.

The jobs tend to center in places with resort economies, like Hawaii and Florida, Brookings reported. High-wealth cities also tend to have more “wealth jobs.”

The Brookings report focuses on 12 specific occupations that particularly cater to the wealthy, ranging from personal-care workers like manicurists and hair stylists to financial specializations like tax preparers and personal financial advisors. Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics program, we found the share of each state’s workforce in one of those 12 occupations as of May 2018, the most recent period for which data is available:

wealth work state map

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Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from Bureau of Labor Statistics

Despite serving an ultra-wealthy clientele, wealth jobs themselves don’t pay much. Manicurists and pedicurists make about $11 an hour, and skincare specialists make $15 an hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Fitness trainers and private chefs earn a little more, but may work precarious schedules.

Jobs caring for the wealthy grow as income inequality widens

Service jobs for the wealthy stem, at least in part, from the growing gap between the rich and poor.

The top 20% richest Americans owned 77% of total household wealth in 2016 – and the top 1% alone holds more than the entire middle class. What’s worse, the top 1% of Americans own a record breaking 23.9% of wealth. The last time the richest owned this much income was directly before the Great Depression.

As the rich continue to get richer, many middle- and working-class Americans struggle to get by. While the economy is at “full employment,” meaning there are more open jobs than those looking for work, wages have essentially stagnated, growing at a rate of just 0.2% per year since 1973 when adjusting for inflation.

Inequality creates wealth jobs. With “Parasite,” it also creates great cinematic art.