Want more daycare? Pay workers more

November 2nd, 2012 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

Let’s nurture: Daycare center in northern Chiba Prefecture

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry just released the results of a survey on quitting. Among the various categories of employment studied, education proved to be the field with the highest percentage of turnover: 48.8 percent of first-time teachers quit their jobs within three years of being hired. Though the study didn’t give reasons for the high turnover rate it isn’t difficult to figure out: Teaching children is a high-stress occupation with little monetary reward.

The same goes for a subset of education, daycare, which continues to pose a very real problem. The lack of daycare facilities for children not old enough to attend school is one of the main reasons young couples are not having more children. According to a recent feature in Tokyo Shimbun, the main reason there are not more daycare centers is that, while demand is increasing as more women remain in the workforce after giving birth, there aren’t enough hoikushi (nursery school teachers). And the reason there aren’t enough hoikushi is that wages are bad and getting worse.

The average monthly pay for a hoikushi, regardless of age or experience, is about ¥200,000, which is almost 40 percent lower than the average monthly pay across the board. But hoikushi tend to work longer hours than the average worker, especially since the Child Welfare Law was revised in 2001, thus allowing more private companies to set up for-profit daycare centers. Average pay for daycare workers dropped after 2001, and private centers tend to hire staff on a non-regular basis, meaning no benefits. According to HLW Ministry statistics, there were 1.12 million licensed daycare workers in Japan in April 2012. However, Tokyo Shimbun reports that few of these people actually work in daycare.

In order to be employed at a daycare center, either public or private, a hoikushi must be credentialed, meaning he or she has graduated from a special hoikushi program offered by a university or vocational school, or passed a test administered by the pertinent local government. Thousands of young people have the credential but apparently only acquire it for their resume, since it’s easy to get and looks good. Once they find out how bad working conditions are and how low the pay is they often seek work elsewhere.

Last spring an NHK program about the shortage of daycare facilities in big cities showed one center in Setagaya Ward, Tokyo, that said it had space for only 20 children and 80 on a waiting list. The manager said he might be able to take more children but he cannot find any workers. For every 20 positions advertised in Tokyo there is only one application. One professor at a university in Chiba told NHK that many students enter college interested in a career in childcare but once there they find out the real circumstances of the job and by the time they graduate decide to pursue other interests, even though it’s so easy to get a job in childcare and difficult to find employment in a “name” company. One student told NHK, “After I started studying I realized how hard it is to raise children, and the pay at daycare centers doesn’t justify that level of difficulty.”

Free market advocates may find the problem mystifying in terms of supply and demand. If so many parents are demanding daycare services then why don’t service providers just pay higher wages to get hoikushi and then take on more customers? The problem is that daycare isn’t a volume business, and the quality of “service” deteriorates rapidly as the child-to-worker ratio increases, though some local governments, according to Tokyo Shimbun, are easing daycare regulations to increase the ratio in order to get parents off their backs.

Most households, even those where both parents work, have a limited amount of money they can pay for daycare, so centers have to keep their fees low, even when they’re being subsidized, which is most of them. In the end, it comes down to how much local governments are willing to pay to fund daycare. Another possible factor is that daycare is traditionally considered woman’s work — the ratio of female to male hoikushi in Japan is 23:1 — and woman’s work still pays less.

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4 Responses

  1. While the low pay of hoikushi is a national scandal, to assert the existence of a national crisis in daycare is to participate in the propagation of a myth, as the latest government survey on daycare facilities ( http://www.mhlw.go.jp/stf/houdou/2r9852000002khid-att/2r9852000002khju.pdf ) shows.

    In between April 1, 2011 and April 1 of this year, the total number of children in daycare and childcare facilities increased by 55,851 to 2,176,802. Over the same period the total number of daycare and childcare facilities in operation increased by 326. The total number of children on waiting lists dropped to 24,825, a 3% decrease from the previous year. Twenty-three prefectures reported having fewer than 50 children on waiting lists; eleven of those reported having no children on waiting lists at all.

    Tokyo remains far and away the prefecture with the greatest number of children on waiting lists: 7,855 — 32% of the national total. Inside Tokyo itself Setagaya Ward is widely known to be the municipality with the stiffest competition for places in daycare. Your use of Setagaya as an example of a national urban trend is therefore disappointing.

    The myth of a national childcare crisis is particularly insidious as it has given operators of for-profit day care the ammunition with which to lobby legislators into deregulating their industry. It also lulled the public to sleep on the serious implication of the so-called childcare reform of merging the hoikuen and yochien systems, which will benefit no one.

  2. In my previous comment I wrote:

    “Tokyo remains far and away the prefecture with the greatest number of children on waiting lists: 7,855 — 32% of the national total.”

    This is incorrect. 7,885 is the number of children who were on Tokyo waiting lists on April 1, 2011. The number who were on waiting lists on April 1, 2012 was 7,257 — which is 29%, not 32%, of the national total.

  3. It seems to me that the commentators who say Japan is overpopulated are correct. The Govt could allocate funds if they wanted to solve the problem.

  4. MTC has a bee in his bonnet on this. I wonder if he has kids and has actually experienced the childcare situation in Tokyo. National trend it may not be, but it is still crap for those of us in Tokyo, whichever way you look at it.

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