By MIKE FERGUSON
Of the Baker City Herald
Childcare subsidies and onsite childcare facilities are at the bottom of the list of benefits that Oregon companies offer their workers, a new statewide survey indicates.
Instead, nearly 70 percent of companies offer their employees flexible work hours to help parents adjust to childcare needs.
Those are the findings reported by Debbie Singer, a Baker City-based Oregon Employment Department workforce analyst writing in the June edition of andquot;Oregon Labor Trends.andquot;
Two-thirds of the companies surveyed offered their employees a flexible schedule or telecommuting up from the 43 percent of companies offering those benefits two years ago.
Among companies with 10 or fewer employees, a flexible work schedule tied with paid vacations and holidays top the list as the most commonly-offered benefits.
andquot;Working parents especially single parents with young children are in the workforce in record numbers, and the need for childcare has never been greater,andquot; Singer reports. andquot;More than half of all Oregon preschoolers have a single parent or two parents working. Women are entering the workforce sooner after the birth of a child, and they're staying longer. Employers who want to attract and keep the best workers are addressing the childcare needs of the changing workforce.andquot;
Kathy Gover-Shaw, human resources manager at Behlen Manufacturing in Baker City, said her company knows how important it is for employees to be comfortable with the childcare their children receive.
andquot;For a company to be successful, quality childcare is essential,andquot; she said. andquot;Lack of quality childcare leads to attendance issues, which can have an impact on morale. If someone calls in with childcare issues, it may lead to shutting down one line to run another.andquot;
Five percent or less of the Oregon companies surveyed offer their employees childcare information and referral, on-site childcare or an employer subsidy for the purchase of childcare.
Family childcare providers watch over about 42 percent of the children of working Oregonians, while about 58 percent are cared for in childcare centers.
According to Childcare Resource and Referral, which helps parents to evaluate childcare options in Baker County, 44 county facilities registered with CCRR can provide care for 345 children full-time.
(There are many more facilities than 44 in Baker County, the agency said, but they are not registered with CCRR.)
But in the present down economy, many of the county's childcare facilities are not near capacity. Little Angels Daycare, at 1905 Fourth Street in Baker City, is licensed for 10 children. But operator Terri Reed says she averages just five or six children to care for each day.
Her young charges range from age two months through 10 years.
An experienced daycare provider who previously worked in Newport, Reed said that Baker County's relatively low wages have forced many parents, particularly single parents, into working an additional part-time job often during the evening hours or on weekends.
As a result, Reed keeps childcare hours out of what doubles as her home andquot;that are practically 24/7,andquot; she says.
The number of single-parent families with children in Baker County is slightly above the state average 28.1 percent versus the 27.8 percent. But the percentage of families with children is below the state average 41.2 percent versus 46.8 percent.
The CCRR reports that 10 registered providers in Baker County offer andquot;odd hourandquot; or 24-hour care. Of those 10 providers, eight currently have openings.
Of the 140 parents and 219 children referred by CCRR between March 2002 and March 2003, 43 percent of the families use some type of childcare subsidy to help pay for childcare.
Reed's rates, like those of many other area providers, are $2 per child per hour.
Childcare cost is a concern for a significant number of the state's workers, the Employment Department found. Low-income families those with annual income below $25,000 spend on average 22.5 percent of household income on childcare. For the state's high-income families those who make $45,000 and above the average household spending drops to 4.1 percent.
Singer's research suggests to her that companies can increase profitability by helping their employees eliminate worrying about childcare.
andquot;Whether you are a large or small business, childcare concerns impact your workforce and, eventually, your bottom line,andquot; Singer said. andquot;Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your employees balance their work and family responsibilities, by putting flexibility and supportiveness at the forefront of your values.andquot;
On the Net:
A toolkit to assist employers in assessing and designing childcare benefits is available at www.oregonemployersofchoice.org. The Web site also provides information on how to take advantage of Oregon's employer childcare tax credits.