By Joe Hong, City News Service on January 13, 2020

A pair of reports released Monday highlight how San Diego County's governments, school districts, workforce agencies and local employers can boost economic growth by supporting working parents.

The San Diego Workforce Partnership and The San Diego Foundation, in a report titled "Workforce + Child Care," link child care and economic development, noting that in 70% of San Diego families with children under 12, both parents in the household are working.

Because child care options are scarce, inconvenient, unaffordable and of varying quality in the San Diego region, working parents can be forced to leave their jobs, not enter the workforce at all or struggle to balance a career and childrearing, according to the report.

Employers overwhelmingly say they value supporting employees with families to improve talent attraction, retention and productivity, but small employers — which comprise the great majority of employers in the region — are often unsure how to provide meaningful support at an affordable cost, the report found.

The authors concluded the optimal child care and workforce system requires the county and city governments, school districts, employers, funders, parents and nonprofit agencies to join efforts in a half-dozen areas, including expanding the supply of child care; making more jobs friendly; and making use of all available state or federal funding.

"We have parents really struggling to hold down jobs because their child care arrangements are so tenuous or expensive. That means we're leaving talent on the table, which we simply cannot do in this economy when employers are desperate to fill jobs," said Peter Callstrom, president and CEO of the San Diego Workforce Partnership.

But experts say the investment could be huge not just for students but for the local economy. Students who receive proper childcare and preschool before entering Kindergarten are more likely to be more academically successful.

"Kids who have experienced high quality child care show that they're more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to earn a good living in later years, less likely to participate in criminal activity and less likely to public benefits like welfare or food stamps," said Laura Kohn, the director of early workforce development at San Diego Workforce Partnership.

The San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce report, "Supporting Working Families," covers employer perceptions about benefits provided to support working families.

According to the report, employers offering a range of benefits — including parental leave, lactation rooms and child care — "gain a competitive edge when it comes to candidate recruitment, team retention and increased productivity."

The analysis offers seven considerations for employers to support working families and recommends the following three low- and no-cost ways they can get started:

— allow employee to use pre-tax dollars to pay for childcare;

— create a peer group for parents; and

— establish clear boundaries between work and home.

Jerry Sanders, San Diego Regional Chamber president and CEO, said workplace culture "is more and more important to building strong, lasting, and productive teams."

"As workplaces continue to evolve, the more employers can stay ahead of the curve and meet the needs of their workers, the happier and more productive those employees will be," he said. "If we can raise awareness across the region of how to best support working families, we can make great strides in our success as a region."