Domestic workers, most of them undocumented immigrants, receive insufficient pay and are victims of verbal, psychological and physical abuse, according to a study released Tuesday by the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Researchers at UIC's Center for Urban Economic Development interviewed 2,086 nannies, maids and caregivers from 71 countries, and the result was a picture of low salaries, dangerous work and "women vulnerable to exploitation and abuse."

The study emphasizes the critical importance of domestic workers in the U.S. economy because they make it possible for their employers - who hire them to take care of their homes, parents and children - to work.

The survey found that 23 percent of those surveyed earn less than the minimum wage, and 48 percent less than what they need to maintain a family.

In addition, 10 percent were the victims of salary theft or did not receive any pay at all for their labor, and 25 percent have so many daily responsibilities that they are forced to make do with less than five hours of sleep.

Since they are hired directly by their employers, they lack labor rights.

The study includes testimonies such as that of Elena, who worked as a nanny in Miami for $1.50 per hour and whose employer eventually wound up owing her $7,000 in back pay.

Carmen was hired as a cleaning lady by a couple in Miami, but her duties also included gardening duties, washing clothes and taking care of children and 10 dogs, all for pay that ranged between $30 and $50 per week.

Anna said that she worked as a nanny in New York from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and instead of the $1,500 per month she had been promised she received $620.

The study recommends that domestic workers be guaranteed the same rights to overtime, meals and rest breaks, and that they be protected against discrimination. EFE