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Editorial - 'Family friendly' the key

October 14, 1997

Last month, a report from the Quad State Technology and Manufacturing Consortium said that wages lower than the national average have given this region's Interstate 81 corridor an advantage in attracting new jobs.

Well, if that was the silver lining, here's the cloud: Families in the Hagerstown area surveyed recently say those low-wage jobs make it difficult for families to get by. The upshot, as we see it, is that taxpayers may have to spend more for services that low-wage workers need, but can't afford on their own.

The survey was done by the Washington County Local Management Board, a group charged with planning the most effective use of state aid. The board surveyed 174 local adults by phone and through focus groups, to find out what their needs were.

What they found was working parents here need about $25,000 to support two children, or a job (or combination of jobs) that pays $12 an hour.

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Many new jobs pay less than $10 an hour, which means that both parents must work, sometimes on shifts that make it difficult to give children the time they need. At that point, parents have two choices - allow children to be unsupervised much of the time, which leads to other problems, or find affordable day care, which is in short supply.

The management board has already determined that it will put more money into teaching parenting skills, but looking at the big picture suggests there's more that could be done.

Economic development people need to do a different sort of cost-analysis, one which goes beyond how many jobs a new firm will create and how many tax dollars it will pay. They also need to ask whether a low-wage firm that draws workers whose families need taxpayer-supported services is really a good "catch."

Officials also need to encourage companies to do as Citicorp has done, and provide child care near the work site. A service like that builds employee loyalty at the same time it relieves taxpayers of those costs. Companies that are family-friendly, even if they don't pay $15 an hour, are the ones we should encourage to locate here.

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