Need for affordable, quality child care affects everyone

Sylvia Porter

November 23, 1990|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1990 Los Angeles Times Syndicate

This generation of American workers (which is increasingly female) believes, as well it should, that a rewarding career need not conflict with building a family. Affordable, high-quality child care, as a result, has become essential in this age when the nature of the family is changing.

The public sector is struggling with the problem. Meantime, the operation of for-profit child care centers has blossomed into a major growth industry and is steadily taking over from the nonprofit sector.

Does this matter to you if you are not a working parent? It certainly does! It affects your pocketbook. Preschool care is now being recognized as part of the education system. Children who have the intellectual stimulation and group play experiences of day care centers are more likely to finish their education, support themselves and stay off public assistance.

That means $1 invested in preschool education today saves $6 in future costs for remedial education and welfare, according to the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. These are your tax dollars being saved.

* If you are an investor, investigate companies that operate chains of child care centers. There are only a handful that are publicly traded, but they are on the threshold of explosive growth.

* If you are an employer, expect child care to be among the hot employee benefits of the decade. Provision of benefits or providing child care at the work site may be the key to retaining women of childbearing age essential for your business.

* If you are an educator, expect child care centers to become a part of the school system.

* If you are a builder, you may need to include child care centers in your office buildings, housing developments and hotels to attract tenants or to meet local regulations. In 1986 San Francisco adopted an ordinance requiring office and hotel developers to set aside space for on-site child care centers to be made available to nonprofit providers, to supply equivalent space nearby or to pay a special assessment to a city fund.

Developers of industrial parks and office complexes have actively sought child care companies, often at favorable lease arrangements. The reason: Other prospective tenants are drawn in by the fact that their employees' concerns will be lessened by nearby day care. Housing developments, too, are instituting child care centers.

* If you are a hospital administrator, your problem is acute because of the shortage of nurses. In order to attract and hold those available, an on-site child care center will be mandatory. Hospitals account for most of the work-site centers already established. Kinder-Care, a chain operator, operates centers for University of Alabama Medical Center at Birmingham, Ala.; St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J.; Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J.; St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Appleton, Wis.; Lincoln General Hospital in Lincoln, Neb., and others.

"Over the next 10 years, most of the highly technical jobs in the nation will be filled by women of childbearing age," says Elinor Guggenheimer, president of Child Care Action Campaign (CCAC) in New York, the leading organization in what is largely an unorganized movement. "Employers must face up to their own self-interest," she declares. "They are dependent on the work of women, and when that work is compromised because workers are distracted by child care concerns, productivity goes down, absenteeism, tardiness and turnover go up. Without two-income families, without working mothers, the nation's gross national product would plunge."

The availability of affordable, high-quality child care is an issue that concerns every American, says Barbara Reisman, executive director of CCAC. It affects the bottom line of every business in the nation. By the end of the decade, 63 percent of all women will be at work, and 47 percent of the work force will be female. It is projected that women will fill two out of every three new jobs created by the year 2000. Women between the ages of 25 and 54 entering the work force in that period will number 10 million, accounting for the largest labor-force increase.

Government, local communities and nonprofit organizations have roles in dealing with the issue of child care. The economics suggest that business, in its own interest, will play the major role in resolving the problem.

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