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Corporate Child Care Is This Summer's Hot Ticket

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Improving employee productivity, loyalty, commitment.

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It's now July, and millions of schoolchildren across the country are celebrating summer vacation.

But for many parents, summer vacation is anything but. In single-parent and 2-income households, those 2 months often mean a desperate scramble to find safe and affordable childcare.

Child care can break the bank for many of the parents of the 48 million children in the US under age 12. In each of the 50 states, monthly child care costs for 2 kids exceed median rent costs, and are as high as or higher than the average monthly mortgage payment, according to The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies.

Child care is crucial to keeping our economy strong. Without child care, millions of Americans would be unable to work. The cost creeps up every year, and like a mortgage, it's a set, often non-negotiable, fee. This puts a greater squeeze on negotiable necessities, such as food.

In April, Kellogg (K) reported that cereal sales were up 6%. I'm willing to guess that this increase has to do with the fact that cereal's no longer just a breakfast food in many households. Cash-strapped families are putting it on the dinner table, too.

Child care, food pantries -- these are what I'll call "recession targets." If you're looking for areas to target your philanthropy, start here. We'll get back to the opera houses and museums when the economy rebounds. But now's the time we need to focus on causes that shore up employment and support the populations that are among the most fragile.

You can do this in your community, and you can do this as an employer. In your community, support expanded summer programs that give children a safe place to go while their parents are at work. As an employer, be sensitive to the challenges that child care presents. Open an on-site day care center. Allow the flexible schedules working parents need to ensure that they can pick up their children on time and spend the day home with them when they're sick.

When your parent employees have support, they will be happier and more productive. The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy reports that of 140 leading companies surveyed, more than half increased their charitable giving in 2008. Much of this giving was in the form of non-cash donations, such as products or volunteer hours. Companies consistently listed by Forbes as having the best on-site child care include Aflac (AFL), Men's Wearhouse (MW), and Wegman's.

I challenge employers to find ways to make parenting easier for employees and consider it a form of in-kind, non-cash donation that will not only help shore up the economy, but also earn you a dedicated and hard-working staff.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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