Companies can no longer sleep on childcare benefits

As more and more millennials start having children, the impact on businesses will only increase. A solution? Offer childcare perks to workers.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Ask any working parent what’s scarier than having a kid, and one answer eventually comes up. (No, the answer isn’t “nothing,” though, honestly, that’s probably also true.)

It’s finding yourself without childcare when you absolutely, positively have to work.

Even if you have a regular daycare option, what happens if your in-home provider gets sick, or if the center you use has unexpectedly decided to close? It doesn’t get much better once your kids are in school. There are still summer, winter, and spring breaks to account for, not to mention all the impossible-to-plan-for snow days that kids love but parents dread.

I’m lucky on two fronts. My wife is a teacher in the district our kids attend school, so her breaks are the same as theirs. If they have a snow day, so does she, so we’re usually covered.

But there are a number of times during the school year that we’re not, whether it’s professional development days — usually once per month — where teachers still go to school but students do not, or on days when one or both of our sons are ill. One of the dirty little secrets of teaching, at least for a high school teacher like my wife, is that if you want to take a day off to care for a sick child, you still have to complete and submit all of your daily lesson plans for a substitute. That’s assuming there are enough subs available, which isn’t always a given during the height of cold and flu season.

It can honestly be just as much work for my wife not to go to work as it can be to go, so the majority of the time when we have a sick kid, I stay home with him. That’s the other way I’m lucky — I can do my job just as easily from home (or anywhere) as I can at the office. Once the kids are comfortable, I’m able to work just as productively as I can on any other day.

That’s not the case for a lot of working parents, though that stands to change — and change rapidly — as more millennials begin to have children.

It’s about time, too. Parenting isn’t just the purview of mothers, though they’re still too often the ones expected to take care of the kids. (Don’t get me started on the number of otherwise progressive guys I know who still expect their wives to drop everything to watch a sick kid because her job isn’t as “important” as his.) Companies behind the curve on assisting their workers with childcare — whether that means increasing remote work opportunities, providing back-up childcare benefits, or some other perk — risk losing out on top candidates now more than ever.

According to the Center for American Progress, every year working families in the United States lose out on at least $28.9 billion in lost wages because they lack access to affordable childcare and paid family and medical leave. This hidden cost includes $8.3 billion in lost wages due to a lack of childcare, and $20.6 billion in lost wages due to a lack of access to paid family and medical leave. That’s staggering and unacceptable.

The issue is getting attention from a number of 2020 presidential contenders, who are seizing on what could be one of the most important issues facing businesses as millennials — a generation now larger than baby boomers — start raising families of their own.

Corporate America still needs to catch up. Surveys of large employers by the Families and Work Institute show that just 9 percent offer benefits such as back-up childcare. Among all employers, its prevalence is even smaller.

Bright Horizons CEO Stephen Kramer tells the Washington Post the new focus on childcare benefits is coming just in time, especially because millennials are having kids later in life.

“The value of that missed day has increased over time,” Kramer says. When it was a 25-year-old recent graduate who was missing work because of a school closure, it didn’t have as much of an impact. “Now these people are in more senior roles, later in their careers, and that’s much more valuable in terms of their time lost.”

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