03/04/08 — Officials: Childcare vital for growth

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Officials: Childcare vital for growth

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 4, 2008 1:45 PM

While the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education continue to discuss how best to invest in elementary, middle and high school education, Don Magoon, executive director of Partnership for Children of Wayne County, wants to make sure pre-kindergarten and early childhood education is remembered as well -- not only for the benefits it provides the children, but also for the economic impact it has on the community.

"The economic impact of child care in Wayne County is huge," he said. "I like to tell people that workforce development starts with what we do in our office."

At its base, Magoon explained to the commissioners in February, early childhood education initiatives like Smart Start and More at Four help children get off on the right foot, as 85 percent of a child's intellect, personality and social skills are formed by age 5, and 90 percent of brain growth occurs before kindergarten.

"The more we can put them in nurturing environments and get their brains functioning at the highest level possible, the better off and the more successful they're going to be down the road," he said. "We've got to give them the right start. It sets the stage for everything else they do."

But the impact of child care on the county's economy doesn't have to wait until those children are educated and in the workforce.

It also provides jobs within a thriving industry, as well as the opportunity for other parents to go to work themselves.

According to the North Carolina Partnership for Children's 2006 data, the child care industry has a total annual direct economic impact in Wayne County of about $120 million.

It also contributes to the ability of parents with children in child care to earn a gross income of $104.1 million and pay a total of $31.2 million in local, state and federal taxes every year.

"They wouldn't be able to work if they didn't have a place to take their kids," Magoon said. "The economic impact is huge.

"People don't think of child care as an industry, but it truly is."

All total in Wayne County, there are 53 licensed homes and 83 licensed centers, providing 890 jobs and caring for 3,337 children ages 0 to 5 years old -- 57 percent of whom are from homes where both parents work, and 45 percent of whom are in the highest quality programs.

And, he noted, that doesn't even take into account those unregulated homes where people care for small numbers of related children.

But the problem for many families is that the cost of child care is often prohibitive, averaging $13,000 in urban counties and $9,000 in rural, with Wayne somewhere in the middle. It's an amount that can often reach twice that of in-state college tuition.

"We need to do anything we can do to retain employees and good jobs," Magoon said. "Economic development efforts will not succeed unless our workforce has access to affordable high quality child care."

That means, he continued, lobbying the legislature for increased funding for child care subsidies and Smart Start and More at Four programs.

"Those are state-run programs, but some counties contribute money so people can work," Magoon said.

He emphasized, though, that they are not and have never asked the commissioners for funding.

Other ways the county can help, he explained is through funding library programs, health care programs and supporting the school system's cooperation with the More at Four programs.

"There are lots of ways the county can help in terms of supporting early education," he said. "All those things are inter-related."