The good news for manicure-seekers: The number of nail salons, particularly in the New York City area, has been growing rapidly. The not-so-good news: The employees who buff, shape, and polish are often severely underpaid (if they're paid at all), exploited as immigrants, and sometimes even abused, per a New York Times investigation. The paper interviewed more than 150 nail salon owners and workers in the NYC area, many of whom are resigned to accepting this is simply the way it's done in the nail industry. Among the most disturbing revelations the report makes: Beginners often aren't paid—sometimes for weeks or months—until they've proven their skills, and even when the cash starts flowing, it's more of a trickle; making $3 or $4 an hour, plus tips, for a 12-hour day is normal.
To make things worse, newbies typically have to fork over money (sometimes hundreds of dollars) as a "training fee"—and if they want to perform better-paying services later on, such as waxing, they may have to pay another fee. There's ethnic-based harassment going on, too, reports the Times: Most salons in the New York region are Korean-owned, so Korean workers have a slight leg up over, say, Chinese, Tibetan, or Spanish workers, making more money and being allowed "perks" like not having to stand while they eat their lunches. Many of these workers feel trapped, since they may be in the US illegally. The Times notes that official investigations by the state are scarce. Click for the full report. (Read more nail salon stories.)