Obama seeks to create new 21st century workplace policies


— Many American families face the stark reality that in today’s economy even two paychecks barely cover the rising costs of food, shelter, health care and education.

Fueled by rising concerns shared by members of a shrinking middle class and the working poor, hundreds of concerned citizens gathered last Monday in the nation’s capital calling for change.

“For many minimum wage workers, it’s not the glass ceiling – it’s the sticky floor and outdated policies that are making it increasingly difficult for hardworking families to survive,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president during the White House Summit on Working Families. “Women now make up 40 percent of the workforce and many are either single mothers living on one check or they’re the primary breadwinner in the household. We need an immediate paradigm change,” Jarrett said.

The summit, convened on June 23 at the Omni Hotel in Northwest, cited several policies that President Barack Obama and his administration have identified as crucial to the survival of 21st century families: paid leave; greater workplace flexibility; affordable child care and preschool; assistance with elder care; combating workplace discrimination; and creating career pathways in low-wage jobs.

One married couple from Silver Spring, Maryland, Marcus and Diavia Webster, said they believe blacks are being intentionally priced out of education and worry about their children’s future.

“College costs are ridiculous; we still have three boys to get through school and we don’t even know if the job market will allow them to pay off the enormous student loan debt that they’ll inevitably incur,” said Marcus, 51. “We thought the Affordable Care Act would benefit families like ours, but the deductible is so high that we’ve opted to take vitamins and work out at the gym instead. Many of our friends are in the same situation.”

Diavia works alongside her husband who formed a recruiting firm for engineers and sales associates in 2008. She said her fears are typical but often overwhelming nonetheless.

“With four sons, 15 to 23, and two still living at home, I have to worry about schedules, household tasks, food, bills and the cost and energy required to take care of elderly parents, said Diavia, whose mother recently lost her battle with breast cancer. “Our business is doing pretty well but we still work very long hours and face increasing financial obligations.”

The summit, a collaboration between the White House Council on Women and Girls, the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress, addressed the need to create a 21st century workplace that works for all Americans.

During the summit, Obama said he’ll soon sign a memorandum directing federal agencies to expand access to flexible work schedules and will also sign off on $25 million to help those who want to enroll in job-training programs but lack access to needed child care.

“I lived in a single-parent home and know how hard it was for my mother,” Obama said. “This isn’t about political gain – I take the issues raised by working mothers and fathers quite seriously and personally. America’s promise has always been to give each of its citizens the same chance to succeed. That’s why we’re here today and why change must come.”