President Obama headlined the first White House Summit on Working Families in Washington Monday, aimed at creating better working conditions for America’s families.
Designed to help strengthen the nation’s economy while boosting the United States’ value in the global marketplace, the day’s speeches and plenaries largely revolved around ways the nation’s businesses can and must create better and equitable conditions for women, particularly those caring for young children.
Nowhere is this issue more pressing than in the Black community: According to the latest Census, at least one in every three Black households is headed by a single woman, the highest percentage of female-headed households in the U.S. Add to this that 4.1 million of America’s single moms and their kids currently live below the poverty line and its obvious that, “post-recession,” millions of moms are too busy working two and three jobs with little workplace flexibility to meet their children’s other critical needs — something, according to the White House, must change.
The First Lady and Vice President Biden offered stories about their own experiences juggling work with family during the daylong event co-sponsored by the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress and held at D.C.’s Omni Hotel.
Claiming that he was once the “poorest man in Congress” with “no savings account,” Biden also indicated he has seen the value in offering flexibility to his female policy staffers when they’ve needed time off from work. “They’re the reason I was able to write the domestic violence law in the first place,” he said, pointing to the landmark Violence Against Women Act he helped pass in the Senate. “You cannot talk about opportunity for women without talking about violence against them, the domestic violence.”
During his address President Obama insisted that the U.S. offer paid maternity leave while urging Congress to pass the long-stalled Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act.
“Many women can’t even get a paid day off to give birth — now that’s a pretty low bar,” he said. “That, we should be able to take care of.”
“There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us,” he added. “And that is not the list you want to be on — on your lonesome. It’s time to change that.”
The president also announced he was signing a presidential memorandum directing federal agencies to expand flexible work arrangements while instructing the Labor Department to allocate $25 million in childcare for people looking to attend job training programs.
“Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage — these are not frills, they are basic needs,” said the president. “They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society. That’s what we’re striving for.”
“All too often, these issues are thought of as women’s issues, which I guess means you can kind of scoot them aside a little bit,” he continued. “At a time when women are nearly half of our workforce, among our most skilled workers, are the primary breadwinners in more families than ever before, anything that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children.”
“When women succeed, America succeeds, so there’s no such thing as a women’s issue,” he concluded. “There’s no such thing as a women’s issue. This is a family issue and an American issue — these are common sense issues.”
Mrs. Obama, who pointed out that increased workplace flexibility offers men the opportunity to better care and bond with their children as well, agreed. “Most employers are private employers,” she said. “They can make decisions based on what’s most financially expedient for them. And studies are showing that having a fair wage, having decent family leave policies and the like — creating a flexible environment — that that improves the bottom line for companies. And we have to start getting that information out so that every company looks at the bottom line for themselves.”