Unfinished Business

Making Progress for Working Families

By Gabriela Vasquez, a Summer 2014 Leadership Conference Education Fund Intern

This week, the White House took a big step towards starting the conversation on fair policies for working parents in the United States. The White House Summit on Working Families addressed many of the problems working families face, such as lack of flexibility in the workplace, paid leave, and access to childcare.

Leaders from a variety of fields spoke at the summit about how the United States can help working parents who are struggling with work and family obligations. Business leaders like Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro Restaurant, emphasized the benefits fair workplace policies provide a company. Howell firmly stated that businesses “can care about working families and still make a healthy profit.” This was underscored by many of the panelists, including Claudia Goldin, a professor of economics at Harvard, who said that the “businesses that survive the longest are the most responsive to change.”

While some at the summit praised the progress that has already been made in the United States to help working parents, a recurring theme was how far behind the nation is on a global scale. In his afternoon remarks, President Barack Obama said, “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not the list you want to be on. It’s time to change that.”

Since working women now make up almost half of all workers – and since six in 10 women are the sole, primary, or co-breadwinners for their families – the topic of women in the workforce was discussed extensively. And while advances have certainly been made, women are still paid less than men for doing similar work – and Congress isn’t helping.

Many of the panelists encouraged Americans to take action. From pushing for a raise in the minimum wage, to pressuring local and state officials to act, it was clear that – in their minds – there are ways to move forward on these issues. As First Lady Michelle Obama noted in her remarks, “there is no excuse for America to be following on this issue. We should be leading.”