The number of children on public day care waiting lists has grown for a third consecutive year as more women continue to join the workforce, the government said Friday, raising doubts about its ability to achieve full enrollment by fiscal 2020.
Children awaiting enrollment in authorized day care facilities had grown by 2,528 from a year earlier to 26,081 as of April, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said.
This was partly caused by the new way such children are defined. This year, the definition includes children cared for by working parents who had to extend child care leave because they weren’t able to get their kids enrolled in day care.
The ministry also said there were 69,224 children who could not get into day care centers but were excluded from the official tally as their parents were seeking enrollment only in day care centers of their choice. The figure was up some 2,000 from a year earlier.
The government had planned to achieve full enrollment by March 2018 but in May pushed back the goal to March 2021.
The day care shortage is more serious in such big cities as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, which accounted for 72.1 percent of all waiting children.
Seven prefectures, including Aomori and Fukui, had no children on waiting lists.
In the meantime, slots at preschools and other day care centers expanded by around 93,000 from a year earlier, but applications climbed by more than 90,000 to a record of around 2.6 million.
In June, the ministry announced a fresh plan to create additional day care facilities for 320,000 children by the end of fiscal 2022.
But financing day care services has been a challenge for the government because the costs are ballooning.
According to the health ministry, the cost of running preschools and other day care facilities in fiscal 2017 has almost doubled to ¥1.5 trillion from ¥885 billion in fiscal 2013.
The employment rate among women is continuing to climb.
The percentage of children aged 1 and 2 enrolled at day care facilities rose from 42.2 percent in 2016 to 45.7 percent in 2017. The ministry expects that to climb further to around 60 percent, even if the number of children in Japan declines.
Some municipal governments have voiced concerns they cannot find new nursery staff even if they want to expand day care capacity. The government decided earlier to raise pay for day care staffers, though there has been criticism that measures taken to improve their working conditions remain insufficient.