Childcare Is Cheap–But Not to Us

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There’s a sobering article on Alternet today titled “Why Do We Pay Our Plumbers More Than Our Caregivers?” It caught my eye because my husband and I are already on the lookout for career opportunities for our two-year-old, and we determined early on that plumbing offers an attractive income and requires low-cost training (i.e., no particular need for a degree from a higher educational institution that would set Mom and Dad back a few hundred Gs). If we successfully implant our dream upon her and she decides to devote her adult life to the soldering of pipes, we would be delighted. If she grew up and said she wanted to be a babysitter, we’d hang our heads, crushed.

That’s how little we value the people who care for our wee ones. Oh, we care about these workers, all right–there’s proof of that in the bald-making anxiety of the selection process, the hand-wringing over how they perform their duties, the attachment of our children. We just don’t mark their value with appreciation of the monetary kind.

Still, childcare costs are killing us. I don’t know about you, but our extremely affordable daycare center-slash-Montessori school still sets us back a good chunk of our income. Then there’s the after-hours babysitting for those days we work late (a frequent occurrence for a journalist and a musician). In our part of the country, the going rate is $10 an hour for babysitting. We pay under $1,000 for the daycare, which, believe me, is a great bargain in these parts.

I think I speak for working parents everywhere when I say we’d appreciate a little help. I recently talked to a scientist at Abbott Labs near Chicago who mentioned that his three kids are cared for day in and day out at his employer’s on-site daycare, for free. He and his wife, who also works there, drop off their kids in the morning, visit them at lunch, pop over if one has the sniffles, and scoot out mid-afternoon to take them home. They do a bit more work from home in the evenings. These talented scientists wouldn’t think to work anywhere else.

Now that’s one smart employer, if you ask me. Not only is Abbott ensuring loyalty and retention, it’s getting the best work out of its workers by giving them peace of mind. What’s more, it’s effectively giving them a bonus by taking on the cost of childcare.

More and more workers I talk to of every profession are selecting employers based on what HR folks call “family-friendly” policies. As this war for talent everybody’s buzzing about gets roaring, my hope is employers will fight for our services by offering us a little help with the kids.