April 22, 1998
The need for child care has become a fact of American life. But not all
parents are able to afford or find the child care they need. Gilbert
Ayala of San Jose, Calif., is a perfect example. When his wife was
hospitalized, Gilbert was forced to stay home to care for their
3-year-old son. He was on three waiting lists for child care help so that
he could return to work and support his family, but before assistance
came, Gilbert lost his job and their apartment. He and his son for a time
lived out of their car before finding a room to rent.
Legislation before Congress is designed to help families like Gilbert's.
Congress has fewer than 70 days left in this year's session -- not much
time to tackle the ambitious agenda before it and certainly not much time
to address the critical issue of child care in America.
We all know that the character of the American work force has changed
dramatically. Today, well over half of all mothers with small children
work outside the home, a number that will continue to grow as women leave
the welfare rolls for the workplace. Thirteen million preschool children
spend all or part of their day in the care of someone other than a
parent, and millions of school-age children need care after school gets out.
Now is the time to act. The legislation that the President and members of
Congress -- on both sides of the aisle -- have proposed would
significantly increase the number of children receiving child care
subsidies, give tax cuts to businesses providing child care and expand
child care tax credits to millions of working families. It would also
augment after-school programs, improve the quality of child care centers
and provide more funds to train workers.
The quality of care children receive in their earliest months and years
profoundly affects their intellectual development. I know that all
parents, myself included, worry about whether child care will be good or
bad for their children. New research shows
that quality child care -- meaning care with lots of positive interaction
between children and caregivers -- can be healthy for a child's cognitive
and language development.
But quality care is of limited value if it's out of reach for most
working parents. About half of America's families with young children
earn less than $35,000 per year, and for them, child care -- which
typically costs between $4,000 and $10,000 per child annually -- is a
significant financial burden.
Federal, state and local government programs provide subsidies for some
working parents, but many others who need help aren't getting it. Some
don't meet the low eligibility limits set by their states. Some don't
know they're eligible. And some states just don't have the money to meet
every eligible family's needs.
Not only do government programs have a role in helping families such as
Gilbert's, but employers can provide effective support and understanding,
as well. Here's the good news: Workplace policies that help families also
benefit employers and the bottom line.
Not long ago, it wouldn't have occurred to anyone to involve an agency
such as the Treasury Department in child care issues. But American
business is learning that good child care is good business. So, last
October, at the White House Conference on Child
Care, the President asked Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin to convene a
group of business and labor leaders to look at the child care problems
facing working parents.
In a report released this week at the White House, they highlight some of
the great family-friendly programs taking place in businesses across the
country. The CEOs of these businesses have figured out that if they're
going to hang onto their most valuable asset -- their workers -- they
need to provide a work environment that works for families.
What did they find were the benefits of these programs? Improved employee
morale, reduced turnover and absenteeism, and increased productivity.
For example, Lexis-Nexis reduced operating expenses by more than 45
percent through a telecommuting program and a flexible work environment
for parents. First Tennessee Bank saw reduced turnover costs of more than
$1 million annually from work and family
programs, including more flexible scheduling. Johnson & Johnson realized
more than $4 for every $1 invested in its work and family programs. And
Lancaster Laboratories now has a turnover rate one-half the industry
average, in part due to an on-site child
It is the job of parents -- not the government and not the private sector
-- to decide what kind of child care works best for them. But government
and the private sector do have a role in making sure that affordable,
quality care is within reach for every family who needs it. And that is
good for everybody's bottom line.
COPYRIGHT 1998 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED