TOKYO -- Facing a long waiting list for day care slots, the Japanese government has pushed back the date it is targeting to fix the problem by three years, as it struggles to keep up with the growing number of women joining the labor force.
The government had aimed earlier to have no eligible children left out due to lack of accommodation by March 2018. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced Wednesday a new plan with the target set at fiscal 2020.
The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare drew up plans in 2013 to speed up the expansion of care facilities. The initial scheme to boost day care capacity by 400,000 children kept being upgraded. So far, additional capacity for 530,000 children has been created.
But greater-than-expected increases in dual-income families and the consequent rise in child care demand has run ahead of supply. Currently, an estimated 23,000 children across Japan are waiting to enroll. The government thus looks to add capacity for 220,000 by fiscal 2020, and an additional 100,000 or so by fiscal 2022 -- to raise the total to 850,000.
But even with the three-year extension, the target looks difficult to achieve, because of difficulty securing enough care workers -- thanks to the tight labor market and unattractive employment terms offered to qualified workers.
As of November, the job offers-to-seekers ratio for day care workers was 2.34. The ratio is higher in large cities, and tops 5 in Tokyo.
The newly announced plan assumes that 80% of Japanese women 25-44 years of age will be working in fiscal 2022 -- up from 73% currently. But still, achieving the target may prove difficult, in light of how the plan has had to be upgraded repeatedly.
As day care demand increases, providing facilities that accommodate families' needs like location and affordability becomes more difficult.
Inconsistency in how local authorities define "children waiting to enroll" is another issue, keeping some children out of the statistics. The welfare ministry will begin reviewing the problem this fall to solidify a uniform definition for fiscal 2018 and beyond, and this process should reveal an even longer waiting list.