From cash stipends to ‘It’s OK days’: The cost of child care crisis is making parental benefits the top issue for over half of companies



As the cost of child care hits record highs, more than half of US employers are prioritizing benefits that help their staff juggle and pay for the demands of family and work. 

Some 56% of companies said that child-care benefits are their most pressing issue this year, up from 46% in 2023, according to a survey from Care.com. The new perks — from an extra bank of paid time off when a kid is sick to cash stipends for a babysitter — beat out paid family leave and mental health benefits as being top of mind for corporate human resources departments.

Companies are reacting to increased demands from employees — and especially prospective new hires — who are more vocal about what they expect from their workplace, Care.com Chief Executive Officer Brad Wilson said in an interview. It also comes amid a back and forth over flexibility. 

“Everyone’s been pushing for this return to office, but we’ve actually seen another shift,” Wilson said. “Employers are saying, okay, return to office, but we have to give, too.” The online child-care platform surveyed more than 600 C-suite and human resource leaders in November and December. It focused on perks outside of what are known as “table stakes” benefits — the health insurance, retirement plans and paid sick and vacation days considered standard across much of corporate America. 

Skyrocketing prices and dwindling options for care are squeezing parents. A full-time nanny can cost as much as $56,000 per year in big cities, and more child-care centers are on the verge of closing as pandemic-era federal aid ends. In a January speech, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said a lack of access to affordable care is one reason it’s “still too hard to be a working parent” in the US. 

Sick Toddlers

Danielle Collins, a mom near Raleigh, North Carolina, said her firm’s emergency paid days off — known as “It’s OK days” — have helped her to stay home, no questions asked, when her twin toddlers are sick.

Public relations firm Prosek Partners, where Collins is a senior vice president, offers the six emergency days on top of regular paid time off (Collins gets 22 days) plus an extra day for an employee’s birthday. During one stretch, Collins said at least one of her toddlers was home for 15 days straight: She was able to tap into the emergency stash; use PTO; and trade off with her husband to care for them.

“You can take the time to focus on your child who woke up in the middle of the night with a stomach bug,” said Collins, 34, without worrying about 7 a.m. rolling around with a full day of work ahead.

At yogurt maker Chobani, US workers get a cash stipend each year to spend on child-care or elder-care costs. Meanwhile, Salesforce Inc. covers $2,000 for doula services so workers can hire night support during the early weeks after the birth of a child when one parent might have already returned to work. 

Many large employers, like Parker Hannifin Corp. and Farmers Insurance, have started offering backup child care through providers like Care.com. Last year, Trane Technologies Plc said it would put money into dependent-care flexible spending accounts — usually funded by workers’ themselves — and provide access to an external child-care service. Others, including Tyson Foods Inc., have opened their own child-care centers.

Caregiving support

In a September survey by child-care provider Vivvi and the Fifth Trimester, 42% of people who had considered quitting their job said they stayed specifically because of their employer’s support of their caregiving. When asked to rank benefits they’d use, those parents put child-care subsidies just above 401ks when considering a new job.

“Being a working parent in general is such a critical time,” said Lauren Hobbs, chief marketing officer at Vivvi. “Solving their needs at this exact juncture pays off enormously.” A 2023 study from the Council for a Strong America found a shortage in care for infants and toddlers costs the US economy $122 billion every year. 

Not every employer is upping perks. Alphabet Inc.’s Google and General Mills Inc. each announced in January that they would shutter on-site day care centers, with reports citing cost cuts and low take-up of the perk, respectively. A spokesperson for Google said it would offer extra backup care to families using the centers, which will close in August. General Mills didn’t respond to a request for comment.

And lots of Americans get no help at all. Though more than half of workplaces offer dependent-care flexible spending accounts, which allow workers to stash away up to $5,000 pre tax each year for care expenses, just 4% offer any subsidized child-care center or program, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. 

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