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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Childcare need poses challenge to business

Nothing puts working parents' minds at ease more effectively than the confidence that their children have competent care while they're on the job. Because of the tight labor market in Hawai'i, that confidence is becoming a scarce commodity.

Advertiser writer Dan Nakaso talked with experienced childcare providers, and their assessment was grim: The demand for teachers and aides at daycare centers is at an all-time high. Increasingly, they are finding other job opportunities that pay better than the typical $18,000 annual salary of a childcare worker.

The complaining can start with the disheartening realization that society seems unwilling to offer higher pay for workers who have our children in their care. Market forces could drive up wages somewhat, to the limit of parents' ability to pay a higher rate.

But those limits are fast approaching. Already daycare bills consume a fat portion of many family budgets. In a time when the cost of fuel and household staples are rising, the daycare slice of the pie can't expand much further.

Occasionally, the government will make some effort to offer support to the daycare industry federal and state subsidies offset the costs for some parents, for example but nothing that would increase incentives to take jobs at childcare centers.

It's not a problem government can solve; the care of children is ultimately the responsibility of parents. But that stark fact doesn't change the reality of a critical need.

Both workplace and worker need to come to grips with that reality. Businesses that want to attract more and better workers might consider ways they could ease the burden for working parents.

For some companies, it might be helping gather referrals from other parents; other companies might be large enough to provide space for on-site care and otherwise assist with some of the costs. In still other cases, the answer might lie in a parent cooperative that the workplace might help coordinate or even enable through flex-time or telecommuting working options.

Childcare is an essential element in a healthy society, and while it ultimately remains a parent's responsibility, everyone gains through a cooperative search for creative solutions.