Day care centers — known as hoiku-jo or hoiku-en — take care of one of the country’s most precious resources — its children. However, the failure of the central government to provide sufficient subsidies has led to chronic shortages of day care workers. The difficulties in attracting workers meant 25,556 children remained on waiting lists to enter day care centers in 2011. The current hiring and salary system demands improvement.

Day care workers’ average monthly salary stands at ¥220,000, according to a government survey of wage structures in 2011. As a result, of the 1.06 million people qualified as day care workers, only 367,000 currently work at day care. Salaries scarcely increase even with years of experience.

As might be expected, many day care workers only stay a few years. The average tenure is 8.4 years, according to a 2011 survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry.

Recently day care centers have expanded hours to include evenings and holidays, increasing the pressures of the job. In the survey by the ministry in 2011, 80 percent of centers said they suffer from staff shortages. This shortage also means harder work by those who have not yet left for better-paying jobs. Labor costs are estimated to be 80 percent of all management costs at day care centers. As a result, many centers have turned to hiring part-time employees.

One survey found that 39.7 percent of day care workers at public child-care centers were part-time employees. With the right incentives of better conditions, more flexible working hours and increased pay, more regular employees could surely be found. Local governments in large urban areas like Yokohama and Kawasaki have started to take matters into their own hands.

The number of private operators of centers has also increased. However, without sufficient central government support, even those centers will still strain to fill positions at their facilities. Increased subsidies by the central government would be a triple-positive: It will encourage more people to take up this work, allow more women to enter the workforce and lead to better care of children.

Supporting day care centers makes sound socio-economic sense, but the real effects are likely to be found in the quality of experience children receive. At day care centers, children do more than nap and nibble; they hear stories, express themselves, experience nature, exercise and engage in all the activities that lead to healthy development. Day care centers do more than just babysit. They prepare our children for the future. They deserve more support.

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