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Childcare

07/17/02 12:00AM By Vern Grubinger
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(Host) Lots of working parents depend on childcare, but what's it really worth? Commentator Vern Grubinger says that there's a new report that documents the value of childcare in Vermont.

(Grubinger) It was a graduation ceremony like no other. There wasn't much pomp and circumstance, but there was plenty of joy as the graduates filed into the room. Actually, they ran. Then, they sat in a circle and sang songs. This was my son's graduation from nursery school. Cause for celebration indeed.

Pre-school childcare has been of enormous value to my family. The kids got a jump on their formal education, good behavior was reinforced, and they had fun while my wife and I were able to go to work, confident that our children were well cared for, even loved.

We're lucky. Our childcare providers are saints. Patient, creative, reliable, and completely committed to their little charges. They're so good that they won the Windham County Childcare Award. It turns out there are many saints working in childcare, meeting an essential need of thousands of families in our communities. A new report titled 'The Economic Impact of Vermont's Childcare Industry' describes just how important childcare is.

More than 37,000 Vermont parents rely on childcare so they can work. These parents earn a billion dollars annually, and pay $100 million in income taxes. Half of all the businesses in Vermont employ people with children in childcare. In addition to enabling people to work, the economic impact of childcare as an industry in Vermont is $426 million a year. If that industry was a single employer it would be one of our largest, with 5,000 employees.

But high-quality childcare isn't just good for grown-ups, it's good for kids. It enhances brain development and prepares children to do well in school. Studies show that providing at-risk children with high-quality early learning programs reduces the chance that they'll engage in criminal activities later in life. An ounce of attention is worth a pound of cure.

For such a valuable service though, childcare sure is under-funded. Despite the fact that Vermont parents pay an average of $5,000 a year for childcare, these fees don't cover the full cost of quality childcare. The government chips in some support, but it's not enough. The result is that childcare workers in Vermont earn an average of just $7.60 an hour. Almost two-thirds of our childcare providers are unable to afford health coverage. Low wages and poor benefits result in high turnover of childcare providers. Meanwhile, there's a childcare shortage. The regulated childcare system meets only 65% of the need, and demand is expected to grow by 12% over the next decade. Finding childcare is especially difficult for parents working non-standard hours.

Public and private investment in childcare is a no-brainer, and we need more of it to improve our economy, enhance our children's future and offer childcare providers the respect they deserve. Is it snack time yet?

This is Vern Grubinger.

Read a full copy of the Vermont Childcare Report.

Vern Grubinger is the director of the UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture.
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