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Executives Put Child Care High on Benefits List

Times Staff Writer

Child care is coming of age as the hottest single fringe benefit in the nation’s largest corporations, top U.S. business executives believe.

Members of the Business Council, who include the chief executives of the 100 largest U.S. companies, say they are beginning to focus more seriously on providing child-care benefits because it has become necessary to attract top young talent--both executives and blue-collar workers.

Whether companies set up child-care facilities themselves or reimburse workers for the money they spend, child care “may turn out to be the most important employee benefit we have,” James E. Burke, chairman of Johnson & Johnson medical supplies manufacturer, told reporters at a briefing here.

Howard P. Allen, chairman of Southern California Edison Co., another Business Council member, agreed. Allen said the proportion of new workers who are single parents or from two-earner families and need child-care services is rising each year. “We really haven’t concentrated” adequately on the single-parent family, he said.

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The issue emerged as the executives devoted the bulk of their annual fall meeting here this week to problems in the nation’s education system and what--if anything--business can do about them.

Former Delaware Gov. Pierre S. (Pete) du Pont IV, one of the speakers at Friday’s session, said the council launched into a detailed discussion of ways to provide day-care services for the children of their employees--although the group reached no firm conclusions. The Business Council sessions are closed to the public.

But Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, complained that neither Congress nor the two major presidential candidates was moving very rapidly on the issue. A child-care assistance bill being considered in Congress was pronounced dead by its sponsors Friday after they were unable to cut off debate to bring the measure to a vote.

At a press conference after Friday’s council session, Edelman praised Vice President George Bush’s proposal for a new child-care tax credit but contended that it was too small to serve as anything beyond a supplementary payment for parents with children. She and Du Pont argued over whether the federal government should play a bigger role in setting quality standards for child-care programs.

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Du Pont, Edelman and two other speakers--former Jimmy Carter Administration Education Commissioner Ernest L. Boyer and Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers--also criticized the two presidential candidates for not highlighting education enough during the 1988 campaign.

Boyer noted that, when the campaign opened earlier this year, Bush and his Democratic rival, Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, were pointing to the education issue as a top priority for their administrations, with Bush even saying at one point that he wanted to be known as the “education President.” But Boyer said neither candidate has developed any detailed proposals for how to solve the nation’s school problems. “I think it’s been a surprise to me,” he told reporters.

The business leaders said devising ways for business to improve education would be one of their chief challenges in the next few years.


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