This past Monday, Administration officials, businesses, economists, legislators, advocates, and working citizens came together for the first-ever White House Summit on Working Families. The Summit focused on igniting a national conversation and setting a concrete agenda to bring American workplaces into the 21st century.
These issues are real for everyone. Over the course of the past few months, senior Administration officials -- from the Secretary of Transportation to the First Lady's Chief of Staff -- have been sharing how they're real for them.
Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady
Before coming to work at the White House, I was a practicing lawyer and experienced first-hand what it was like to grapple with raising young children as a single mom. While I had a demanding job that included late nights and lots of travel, I had the good fortune to have the resources to have wonderful childcare in my home that I trusted and who were always available for me and my kids. And I was also able to take full advantage of technological advances, as I could put my kids to bed at night and then go back to writing legal briefs that I could fax back in the middle of the night, and later, I could send in through my computer when that became possible. (Yes, I am old enough to remember when there was no such thing as the internet or a laptop computer).
But I also know that I was one of the lucky ones: Millions of working parents in America do not have these advantages and instead are struggling to hold jobs that make ends meet, while worrying about who is taking care of their kids.
Secretary Thomas E. Perez, Secretary of Labor
Involvement in my kids' sports teams is something I have made time for over the years. I've also been able to coach all three of them in baseball and basketball, something that has strengthened our bonds and given me indescribable joy. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I lost my own father when I was 12, and I am the same age today that he was when he died suddenly of a heart attack. So when it comes to family time, I have a strong sense of the fierce urgency of now.
But I'm lucky. I've had jobs that allow me the flexibility to achieve work-life balance, to be there when one of the kids sinks a jump shot or for the parent-teacher meetings. I can move tasks around. If I don't get something done at the office at 4:30 in the afternoon, I can go back to it at 10:00 in the evening.
Betsey Stevenson, member of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisors
I told a friend recently that I thought that I was failing at everything -- my kids weren’t getting enough of me, I wasn’t doing everything that I wanted to at work, and I wasn’t spending enough time with my partner. Her response was to congratulate me for getting my work-life balance just right.
As an economist, I’ve spent my career thinking about trade-offs and how to make good decisions given all of the constraints -- like money, time, and opportunities -- that we face. And I know it is hard. When kids are young, their demands on parents’ time is enormous, and the same thing is true when partners or parents or children are sick. We all have periods in our life where our home needs are greater than at other times.
Secretary Anthony Foxx, Secretary of Transportation
I'm a father now. My daughter was born 10 years ago, and my son soon after. And one of my greatest challenges, having never grown up with a father myself, is figuring out what a dad is supposed to do. I got the memo about taking out the garbage. And I change more light bulbs than Thomas Edison. But when it comes to preparing your kids for the slings and arrows of life, that's something I've only learned about fairly recently.
And here's the key: I only learned about it because I was able to make the time.
Krysta Harden, Deputy Secretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture
Coming from a small town in Southwest Georgia myself, I can relate to the unique challenges that rural Americans face. Growing up, my father worked seven days a week on our peanut and cattle farm with help from my mother. To make sure our family had a constant source of income and health insurance, my mother also worked off the farm at the local independent bank. I am fortunate to be the product of hard working parents who provided my sister and me with the best opportunities possible.
All families have a right to have access to a good education system, affordable healthcare and jobs. Our rural families are concerned about creating strong prospects for their children, whether it is on or off the farm. But it is also essential that there are opportunities that will attract young people back to rural areas and help us secure the future of agriculture.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement
Most parents, myself included, have felt at times like we were barely holding on by our finger tips as we try to meet all of the demands on our time. I often recall a time while working for Mayor Richard Daley in Chicago, when the value of a flexible work environment was made clear. I had just been promoted to the role of Commissioner of Planning and Development, and he had convened a meeting with members of his cabinet and Susan Sher, who was the corporation counsel at the time. She was also one of my dearest friends, and a single mom too.
As the meeting stretched on, the two of us kept looking at our watches, and at each other. Finally, the mayor interrupted the conversation, gave us a piercing stare, and asked if there was somewhere more important that we needed to be.
I wasn’t at all sure how to respond, but I looked across the table at Susan, and blurted out, "Susan and I both have second graders, and their Halloween Parade starts in 20 minutes -- and it is 25 minutes away." We both braced ourselves, not knowing how the mayor might respond. But without a second's hesitation, he replied, "Well then what are you doing here? You better get moving."